Fall River city councilor seeks to have felony charges dropped in 'love triangle' case

FALL RIVER — The obstruction and harassment case against City Councilor Pam Laliberte continues as a Fall River district court judge decides on her request to drop two felony charges and send the remaining misdemeanor counts to be handled in a closed-door magistrate clerk’s hearing.

However, the Bristol County District Attorney’s office wants to pursue the felony charges against Laliberte, who was City Council president until the news of the criminal case against her emerged publicly.

She resigned as president in September, but refused to step down from her council seat despite some of her colleagues arguing for her departure from council.

Judge Sabine Coyne said she’ll take the motion that was presented in court on Friday morning under advisement. A status hearing on the motion is set for Jan. 12.

Laliberte, who works as a real estate agent, was present at the approximately 13-minute hearing.

Her attorney, Frank Camera was critical of the Westport Police Department’s handling of the investigation in August when they charged her with criminal harassment, annoying telephone calls/electronic communications, misdemeanors and two counts of felony witness intimidation.

They allege Laliberte made multiple harassing cell phone calls and text messages to the wife of a former lover and business associate after their affair ended.

The wife had allegedly been getting calls from so-called “spoof” or “burner” telephone numbers via an app that allows a caller to hide their identity with anonymous phone numbers.

“The Westport police were overreaching from the beginning of this case. This is a love triangle case and the resources spent and the manpower and the time exerted for this case, it appears to me there must be no other crime in Westport,” said Laliberte’s defense attorney, Frank Camera after Friday morning’s hearing.

Pam Laliberte-Lebeau faces the judge in court Friday.
Pam Laliberte-Lebeau faces the judge in court Friday.

The felony obstruction/intimidation charges stem from the day Westport police went to Laliberte’s New Boston Road apartment with a search warrant to take possession of the city councilor’s cell phone.

Initially, Laliberte, who was in the apartment at the time police arrived, falsely  said she was in New Bedford with a real estate client, even though her SUV was in the driveway.

Criminal chargesCouncil President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau charged with harassing former lover and his wife

She also allegedly contacted the ex-lover during the investigation and he in turn, contacted Westport police.

Stepping downPam Laliberte-Lebeau steps down as Council president amid criminal charges and scandal

Pam Laliberte-Lebeau leaves the Justice Center with her attorney Frank Camera Friday.
Pam Laliberte-Lebeau leaves the Justice Center with her attorney Frank Camera Friday.

Alleged victims support dropping charges

The Herald News does not publish the names of alleged victims, although during Friday’s hearing the identities of the Westport couple were mentioned and on record multiple times.

The alleged victims each had their own legal representation at the motion proceeding.

The husband and Laliberte’s former lover, is represented by well-known Massachusetts defense attorney Kevin Reddington. Attorney Nelia DeStefano represents his wife.

Legal counselLaliberte-Lebeau hires lawyers to take her harassment case. She's due in court in October.

The couple’s attorneys asked to be heard at the beginning of the proceeding. Coyne said she wasn’t sure if they had standing, but was willing to allow them to be heard.

Reddington said, “for any number of reasons,” the couple did not want the government to pursue the case against Laliberte.

Coyne told Reddington she understood the alleged victims' position, but ultimately the decision is up to the Bristol County District Attorney’s office.

Defense argues no probable cause in obstruction case, prosecutor disagrees

Camera told the judge that Laliberte’s actions when police arrived at her apartment with a warrant in hand, “in no way, shape or form, impacted the investigation.”

Laliberte, Camera said, had no legal obligation to answer the door to police.

“They essentially knew she was there and waited for her to come out,” said Camera, calling Westport police “overzealous.”

“Upon exiting the house, she was absolutely cooperative,” said Camera.

After being served the warrant and surrendering her phone, Laliberte agreed to meet with police and allegedly confessed to making the harassing calls using the “burner” app.

In his arguments, Camera acknowledged there had been calls made by Laliberte to the wife.

Camera was also critical of the investigating officer who wrote the multi-page criminal police report, never including the wording of the alleged text messages she sent to the wife.

However, included in the report, were a number of disturbing text messages between Laliberte and her friend and real estate colleague, Fatima Pires.

It’s unclear which of the women posted the text, but the police report included this, among numerous postings: “You keep REIGNING OVER THE CITY-LIFE IS GOOD, I can see the headline now, 'I just wanted to tell the wife, he wasn’t even that good', Wait I do have another thing that popped up on my calendar. Marriage to ruin at 10:45 …" 

Assistant District Attorney Courtney Cahill, who heads up the agency’s domestic violence unit, said there was probable cause to bring the felony obstruction/intimidation charges against Laliberte.

“It’s apparent Ms. Laliberte, the defendant, knew there was an investigation ongoing because she knew the police were outside her door. At that time, she called (the husband) to call the investigation off or ‘I’m going to tell the police about the affair,” said Cahill. “Within an hour, she did tell the police about the affair.”

Reporters asked Camera later about the alleged victims desire to have the case dropped.

“They wanted to resolve this case in what appears, to me, in a fashion that would be helpful to put this whole scenario put behind everybody. Apparently, it was the District Attorney’s office who chose not to abide by what their alleged victims wanted,” said Camera.

What the judge may decide

In his motion, Camera asked Coyne to dismiss the two felony counts and to send the misdemeanor cases before a clerk magistrate, which is not a public court proceeding

“If it wasn’t for the mistakes that the Westport police made in this investigation, the extent which of what should have happened, the misdemeanor charges without felonies and that would have required nothing more than a magistrate’s hearing, like it would for anybody else,” said Camera after the hearing.

Camera said if Laliberte didn’t have the public position that she does, “it would have never have gone this far.”

While clerk magistrate hearings are not public, it's possible that a defendant can waive the rule and open the hearing.

Camera dismissed that as a possibility.

“I wouldn’t change the procedures for anybody. So given the rules and regulations for magistrate hearings, I wouldn’t tinker with that,” said Camera.

Coyne also has the option of denying or upholding the request to dismiss the felony charges for lack of probable cause. If the felonies are dropped, the judge could deny sending the misdemeanor case to a magistrate hearing.

Laliberte has not yet been arraigned on any of the pending criminal charges.

This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Fall River city councilor Pam Laliberte wants felony charges dropped