Synagogue bomber trial to stay in Bergen County

Synagogue bomber trial to stay in Bergen County

But proceeding will be overseen by judge from outside the county

The trial of Aakash Dalal and Anthony Marco Graziano will take place in Bergen County, according to a ruling Friday afternoon by Superior Court Assignment Judge Bonnie J. Mizdol.

This appears to have removed the last legal hurdle to scheduling a trial for their alleged responsibility in attacks on five Bergen County synagogues in December 2011 and January 2012.

Judge Mizdol also ruled that the trial will be overseen by a judge from a different county. Last month, the state Supreme Court decided that the trial could not be overseen by a Bergen County judge, given that Mr. Dalal allegedly made death threats against two Bergen County judges.

These threats are expected to be evidence for a second set of charges against Mr. Dalal, involving alleged death threats against a member of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, made while Mr. Dalal was in prison and unable to raise bail for the synagogue attack charges.

The Supreme Court left it to a Bergen County judge to decide whether to have an outside judge brought into the Bergen County courthouse to preside over a Bergen County jury, or whether to move the entire trial to a neighboring county.

During Friday’s 60-minute hearing, an attorney for Mr. Dalal argued for moving the trial, and an attorney for the prosecutor’s office argued against moving it.

The Supreme Court had asked that the views of victims be taken into account when enumerating reasons to oppose the move.

In this case, the victims were considered the members of the five synagogues that were targeted, in December 2011 and January 2012.

The attacks began with swastikas spraypainted on the building of the Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood. A week later, similar graffiti was spray painted at Temple Beth El in Hackensack. This was followed by arson attacks that did minimal damage at two congregations in Paramus, and then a firebomb thrown into Temple Beth El in Rutheford.

The prosecutor’s office reached out to the synagogues in advance of Friday’s hearing, to get the views of their members on moving the trial — and to encourage them to attend the hearing.

Some 75 members of the Jewish community were at the hearing. Among them were Jason Shames, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

There was also a contingent of Dalal supporters. Advocates for Mr. Dalal have argued that contrary to allegations that he was on the scene during the Beth El firebombing, he was in New Hampshire campaigning for Rand Paul.

“We had about 20 members of our congregation [at the hearing],” said Rabbi Arthur Wiener of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. “I expect we will have representation from throughout the Jewish community at the trial.”

No date has yet been set for the trial; now that the question of venue has been settled, the defense is expected to raise other pretrial motions. But the prosecutor’s office expects the jury selection to begin within a year.

Rabbi Weiner said he is “very grateful for the attention the case has received from all agencies, from the government and law enforcement. It’s been terrific. We’ve had amazing cooperation and interest in the case from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the county sheriff, the state police, and the Paramus police.”

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