NOTE: This article is Part One of a three-part series chronicling WNYNewsNow’s interview with Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson on Friday.
MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said his office is working to overcome another obstacle.
Last week, County Judge David Foley ruled that First Assistant Mike Flaherty was “not qualified” to serve as he did not have an exemption from a New York State law requiring county ADA’s to live in the county in which they serve. In an interview with WNYNewsNow in Swanson’s office Friday, the chief prosecutor said his office is operating just as they would in any other similar situation.
“We are handling it just in the way we would in any other situation if somebody’s out of the office,” Swanson said. “We have another attorney who just came back full time, and she’s handling the majority of Jamestown cases, with the assistance of the other felony attorneys. We spread the caseload around. We have a great staff that understands that you’ve got to step up and help your colleagues, if need be.”
“Obviously, if you’re missing one attorney, it does place a strain on the remainder of the staff. It’s nothing we haven’t had to do in the past, and I don’t suspect it’s going to cause any significant issue.”
If Flaherty is unable to serve after an appeal, the DA’s office will drop to nine full-time prosecutors and one part-time prosecutor. Swanson said a new prosecutor will start in January.
“We already have a person, and they are a (Chautauqua) County resident,” Swanson said. “We look here within the county, and we try to find attorneys here, and we have a great local bar. The unfortunate part is that local bar, they all have good jobs. Getting someone that has litigation experience, finding somebody who can handle a felony caseload that’s outside of this office that can come into here without creating conflicts of interest (is a challenge).”
Swanson said his office, along with other district attorneys throughout the state, are trying to get permission to hire a prosecutor from outside the county in order to avoid the conflict.
“The importance of the option to look at someone who’s 30 more miles away is so that you have someone that can succeed at the position you put them in,” Swanson said. “I can hire any new law student, and put them in a small misdemeanor court, and they can learn. The times when we have a position open up that requires someone to handle litigation, in felony cases. They’re serious, they’re important, and you can’t put a new law student, you can’t put somebody in there that has two, three years of experience. It’s gotta be someone capable of doing the work.”
“That’s no slight on our young bar, but you’re very limited in the number of people that can step in and handle the caseload of 150 felonies.”
At the full November voting session, the Chautauqua County Legislature voted down (12-5) a resolution that would’ve allowed Swanson, pending approval from New York State’s Senate and Assembly, to hire up to four assistant district attorneys from neighboring counties.
WNYNewsNow’s next report will detail how Swanson’s office is handling drug cases, and how they’ll handle such cases in the future.