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Bellevue judge to stand trial on weapons charge

Friday, December 15, 2006

By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Bellevue district judge accused of carrying a concealed gun without a permit last month was held for trial yesterday despite some inventive arguments from his lawyer.

Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette
Senior District Judge Donald Presutti, left, leaves Common Pleas Court, Downtown after a preliminary hearing before Judge Lawrence O'Toole yesterday. Judge Presutti was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a license.
Click photo for larger image.

Police arrested Senior District Judge Donald Presutti, 59, on Nov. 29 at West View Auto Body, where they said he had returned armed with a 9 mm pistol after an earlier altercation with his father-in-law, Earl Quillen.

When Sgt. James Simmons confronted him, Judge Presutti pulled the loaded, cocked handgun from his suit pocket. The sergeant immediately grabbed it from him.

"As soon as I seen it, I said, 'Let me have that,' " said Sgt. Simmons. "The hammer was back when I took it off him, all the way back."

When the sergeant asked if he had a permit to carry, he said the judge replied, "No, why?"

Judge Presutti explained he had the gun because he was afraid of Mr. Quillen, whom he said had earlier swung at him and grabbed him by the neck at the auto body shop.

In trying to get the charges thrown out, his lawyer, Michael Witherel, relied on three arguments to justify carrying the gun.

First, he said Judge Presutti needed the weapon to protect himself from Mr. Quillen. Second, he cited a series of cases based on "hundreds of years of common law" indicating that district judges are "law enforcement officers" and so can carry guns.

And third, he argued that the gun couldn't have been completely concealed in his suit pocket because it wouldn't fit in there -- the handle would stick out.

"To quote the late, great Johnnie Cochran," he told Judge Lawrence O'Toole, " 'If it doesn't fit, you have to acquit.' "

Judge O'Toole praised the lawyer's creativity, noting that many lawyers wouldn't have worked so hard, but ruled that the state has enough evidence to take Judge Presutti to trial.

Police said the incident began when Mr. Quillen, who lives in Florida, visited his hunting camp here and found it trashed. Because Judge Presutti's children had a key to the camp, he blamed the judge.

The two argued at the auto body shop. When police arrived, Mr. Quillen was gone and no one at the shop said they saw anything happen. So police asked the judge if he wanted to file a criminal complaint against Mr. Quillen.

Sgt. Simmons said the judge did not, but that he wanted the incident to be "a matter of record."

The officers left, but a half-hour later, Judge Presutti's wife, Nita, called 911 and said he had returned to their house to get his gun and was headed back to the auto shop. When police confronted him there, he admitted carrying the gun and pulled it from his suit pocket.

Judge Presutti has been suspended from duty pending the outcome of his case.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 16, 2006) Donald Presutti, the suspended district judge who appeared in court Dec. 14, 2006 on weapons charges, served in Bellevue. This story as originally published Dec. 15, 2006 incorrectly said he was a district justice in another community.


(Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-0132. )

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