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Seven-year Island case finally wraps with sentencing

JULIE LANE PHOTO Michael Ballad outside Shelter Island Justice Court during his trial where he opted to defend himself.

Michael Ballard outside Shelter Island Justice Court during his trial where he opted to defend himself.

Michael Ballard of Sag Harbor — convicted in September 2016 in Shelter Island Justice Court of aggravated driving while intoxicated; driving while intoxicated as a first offense; and license plate, insurance and registration violations — was sentenced by Judge Helen Rosenblum Monday to one month in prison and three years of probation.

He was granted a week before he must surrender himself to be jailed.

The charges stemmed from a July 31, 2010 incident in which Mr. Ballard was stopped where he lived at the time on North Midway Road by Shelter Island Police Officer Thomas Cronin.

Judge Rosenblum said much of the delay in getting the case to trial resulted from the defense’s actions.

In a rare case in any jurisdiction, but extremely rare at Shelter Island Justice Court, Mr. Ballard acted as his own attorney, assisted by Legal Aid Society attorney Sabato Caponi.

The defendant characterized the police testimony during the trial as a “fairy tale,” saying, “This whole entire case was fabricated.”

Judge Rosenblum said after the sentencing that it was important that Mr. Ballard be on probation for three years in the hope he would show good behavior and find “peace” as he goes forward with his life.

In requiring the three years of probation, the judge explained that she had no alternative except sentencing him to jail for a period that would either be one or two months long, not the year that Assistant District Attorney Rob Archer had requested. He was the AD in court Monday, although Sean Buckley had tried the case against Mr. Ballard.

Jurors found Mr. Ballard not guilty of driving at an imprudent speed and crossing over the middle line of the roadway en route to his house where police followed him along Route 114.

Much of the three-day trial last year focused on Mr. Ballard’s contention that the officer was dishonest in his testimony. He also made vigorous complaints that he hadn’t been allowed to bring in witnesses who would support his accusations.

Judge Rosenblum frequently interrupted Mr. Ballard’s claims during the trial and again, Monday, told him she wouldn’t allow him to make comments about the officer.

“Everybody believes when you go to court, you’re going to get a fair shake,” Mr. Ballard said Monday morning.

For seven years, he added, he’s been without a driver’s license that was taken away the day he was arrested. He’s been unable to visit children and grandchildren unless someone drove him and his business as an auto mechanic has been lost. He’s had to sell off possessions to help support himself through those years, he said.

In asking for leniency in sentencing, Mr. Caponi said, “Clearly the officer doesn’t like Mr. Ballad and his attitude toward cops.”

Mr. Caponi noted that “people don’t like” Mr. Ballard. The attitude many had toward Mr. Ballad, the lawyer said is, “He’s outspoken so let’s shut him up and put him in jail.” But he argued his client had suffered enough.

“For seven years, his life’s been on hold,” Mr. Caponi said. “What he’s been through already has to be factored in.”

“I agree with a lot of what you said,” Judge Rosenblum told both Mr. Ballad and Mr. Caponi.

“You have everything to live for,” she told Mr. Ballard, appealing to him to serve his time and probation without rancor.

“You’re going to be a better person and you’re going to be a peaceful person,” she said.

Mr. Ballard, while suggesting after the sentencing that his attorney might appeal, expressed gratefulness to the judge for her leniency in allowing him a week before reporting to jail.