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Judge allows Ridgewood doc to defend himself against explosives charges

Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia

UPDATE: A Ridgewood physician who insisted on representing himself for having explosive chemicals and firearms in his basement apartment got his wish today.

Defense attorney Ian Silvera, Roberto Rivera (STORY / PHOTOS: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

Roberto Rivera, 52, took the initiative before the judge had even ruled on his request.

“Objection, your Honor,” he said when Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney tried to introduce information about his criminal and psychiatric histories.

Later in the hearing, Rivera told Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian that he was tried at the age of 16 for bank robbery but acquitted on the basis of insanity.

Jerejian acknowledged that the U.S. Constitution guarantees every defendant the right to legal representation — but not to represent yourself.

Although there’s legal precedent for doing it, the judge advised against it.

“I’m sure you have heard the old saying, ‘A person who represents themselves has a fool for a client,” Jerejian told Rivera.

“i have heard that, your honor,” he responded. “I don’t agree.”

Jerejian left open the issue of who will serve as “side counsel,” which he said Rivera must have.

Defense attorney Ian Silvera, who has represented Rivera since shortly after his Nov. 16, 2012 arrest, said his client has consistently insisted he not be there.

“I tried to discourage him because the issues in this case are very complicated,” Silvera said. “It requires a trained legal mind to properly argue the case.

“But it is his right to represent himself,” he said. “If the court finds that permissible, I would most likely be the standby counsel.”

Rivera insisted on another lawyer, but Silvera said he explained that “the Public Defender’s Office does not assign attorneys on that basis of ‘like.’ There has to be a real and definable conflict.”

Still, Silvera said, he “will do whatever is necessary to move this process forward.”

Delaney encouraged close examination of Rivera, telling the judge: “The underlying behavior that is the basis for these charges can only be described as bizarre.”

He also said that state psychiatrists have ruled that whatever political views Rivera has aren’t the result of a psychiatric disorder.

Doctors at the Ann Klein Forensic Center were asked to evaluate Rivera to determine whether he suffers from a psychiatric illness and whether it would affect his ability to represent himself in court, as well as whether there was anything that would prevent him from understanding issues that might be raised.

“He was examined by two different doctors, and underwent two entirely separate evaluations, on three different dates,” Delaney said. “Their finding was that he has no viable psychiatric defense or psychiatric condition that would be the basis of a defense.”

Rivera was still being held in the psychiatric wing of the Bergen County Jail, the prosecutor noted.

Rivera repeated to the judge that he wants a different side counsel, along with a little more time “to present some small motions.”

“Could you put off the next hearing for two months, first of all, to give me the opportunity to petition the Public Defender office to change my counsel?” he asked.

He said he also has “three small motions”: for a bill of particulars, a written transcript of the CD evidence, and enhanced access to the jail’s law library.

Rivera outlined a larger list of motions, including suppression of evidence, that he said he’ll raise at a later date.

Jerejian set a June 8 hearing date to begin hearing the motions.

As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported exclusively, authorities feared domestic terrorism in November 2012 after Rivera confided to someone that he was concerned what effect a power outage from Hurricane Sandy would have on explosive chemicals he’d allegedly been refrigerating.

Those concerns drew various members of the FBI, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bergen County Police Bomb Squad and Hazardous Materials Team, Ridgewood police and the Bergen County Sheriff’s Bureau of Criminal Identification to the Union Street two-family home, where Rivera lived in a converted basement.

They reported finding:

• a basement freezer containing 2.5 liters of nitric acid, which can be used to create explosive devices;
• attic containers that included hydrogen peroxide, glycerin, sulfuric acid, calcium hypochlorite, and potassium perchlorate, which can also be used to create bombs;
• 10 pounds of thermite, and 10 thermite lighters, which can be used to detonate bombs;
• several weapons, including two Cobray M11 assault pistols and a .40-caliber handgun, which weren’t registered and he wasn’t allowed to have;
• a Hellfire trigger mechanism that can allow a firearm to fire at an extremely high rate;
• several high-capacity magazines;
• a stun gun;
• assorted boxes of ammunition.

State authorities said the search also turned up folders marked “Revolution” and “Anarchism,” which they said included instructions for creating homemade explosives, a military improvised munitions manual and documents on how to convert firearms into fully-automatic machine guns.

Although he didn’t maintain a medical office here, Rivera was licensed to practice in New York and New Jersey, they said.

He also occasionally lived and worked out of his 2007 Nissan Xterra, from which he provided medical examinations on Long Island, Ridgewood police said at the time. The car contained bottles of medication, medical equipment, and prescription pads bearing Rivera’s name and New York license number, they said.

Rivera previously spent time in an institution and is classified as a “certain person” prohibited from owning firearms.

He remained held on $1 million bail in the Bergen County Jail on charges of recklessly storing hazardous materials that created a “widespread risk of injury or damage,” having explosive devices and assault weapons, and nine other counts related to weapons and explosives possession.

Defense attorney Ian Silvera, Roberto Rivera (STORY / PHOTOS: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

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