A prosecutor who's the son of TV's Judge Judy sued the local sheriff for $5 million on Wednesday for saying the prosecutor had interfered in a child rape case.
Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy said county Sheriff Donald Smith is "an out-of-control sheriff who does not care about the truth." He said Smith "maliciously attempted to destroy" his reputation.
The sheriff denied defaming Levy. He also said the timing of the lawsuit was "blatantly political" and implied it was intended to damage his re-election campaign.
Levy filed the lawsuit in county court in suburban New York, naming Smith only as an individual, not as a county employee. His lawyer, Michael Sussman, said that should mean county tax payers shouldn't be liable.
The lawsuit stems from a child rape case against Levy's former personal trainer, Alexandru Hossu. In the court papers, Levy calls him "a close personal friend" and a frequent house guest of his family in 2011 and 2012.
In March, Levy said he had recused himself from the rape case as soon as he learned Hossu was under investigation.
But the sheriff alleged Levy had "ongoing and improper involvement" in the case and apparently was trying to influence it.
The sheriff in March issued a news release saying, "Mr. Levy's comments and actions would seem to suggest that, if he could have his own way, Mr. Hossu would never have been brought to justice for his crime and Mr. Levy's relationship with him would never have been brought to the light of public scrutiny."
The two officials also battled over Hossu's address — the sheriff gave out the district attorney's address, but the lawsuit says Smith knew Hossu didn't live there at the time.
Hossu, a 35-year-old immigrant from Romania, is accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. He has pleaded not guilty, and defense lawyers have moved to dismiss the case.
At a news conference Wednesday, Levy refused to say whether he believes Hossu is guilty. But he said he doesn't think he misjudged him.
Besides the district attorney's office, Putnam County judges have recused themselves, so the case is being handled by a judge and prosecutors in neighboring Westchester County.
Levy and Smith are Republicans. The lawsuit catalogues differences between their offices on issues including the videotaping of suspects' interviews. It says "Smith's outward hostility" toward Levy has intensified since 2011.
Smith, who's running for re-election in November, said the timing of the lawsuit is "blatantly political and intended to try to influence the outcome of an election."
Levy said he would have supported his chief assistant Christopher York if York hadn't dropped out of the sheriff's race.
Levy's mother, Judy Sheindlin, is a retired Family Court judge and the star of "Judge Judy." She issued a statement Wednesday calling her son "principled, honorable and dedicated."
"His moral compass is dead center," she added. "When someone attacks his character professionally or personally they best be prepared to back it up — shut up — or pay up."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.