MAYVILLE – Several counties, including Chautauqua County, are facing similar challenges as they prepare to comply with the changes that the criminal justice system will undergo in New York State starting January 1.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn were among the prosecutors who spoke during a New York State Senate hearing Monday morning in Downtown Manhattan. During an interview Thursday afternoon with WNYNewsNow, Swanson said that the discussion was specifically geared towards the new discovery laws.
“What was relayed to them by the members of the District Attorney’s Association members who were there with me were concerns with how the discovery process is being accelerated, how it’s requiring us to turn in more information that’s being required right now, and pairing those two things together, without affording various counties more resources for their District Attorney’s office, so they can do this, was the chief concern expressed among the group of people I was there talking with,” Swanson said.
“I’m always pushing for aid from the state,” Swanson explained when asked if he’ll be seeking funds from New York State. “They’ve continued to hand out unfunded mandates, whether it’d be to the District Attorney’s office or other forms of laws that they’re passing. My particular concern is this mandate that they’ve now placed on us to disclose more in a faster time with no funding to accomplish that.”
Swanson said that his office is doing a “great job” with “great lawyers,” but he’ll need more resources in order to comply with the new laws. In addition, Swanson said that his office could use an additional $1 million because of the changes.
Chautauqua County’s chief prosecutor said that, during the process, he’s consulted with State Assemblyman Andy Goodell to discuss his concerns.
WNYNewsNow asked Swanson if he has discussed the resource issues with local officials as 2020 rapidly approaches. Swanson said he’s done everything in his power to educate officials.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve done what I can to educate them as to the new requirements,” Swanson said. “I told them it’s imperative that we are afforded more resources so we can comply with this new law. That being said, I understand our county budget. But at some point, we have to focus on our public safety. We have to give my office the tools that we need to fight the crime that’s happening here in our communities.”
Swanson said the resources that he’s pushing for would go towards funding more attorneys for his staff.
The top prosecutor confirmed that he’s presented his budget proposal to County Executive George Borrello. According to Swanson, Borrello asked him to trim his budget.
“I was a little disappointed in that, but I don’t have that kind of control to push my budget through to the legislature directly,” Swanson said. “We did trim it. I removed one full-time employee I was requesting. In my budget request to the County Executive, I asked for a lawyer, a paralegal and a part-time investigator. I removed the paralegal.”
“My hope is that when I speak to the Public Safety Committee (in October), I can instill in them the need for this so we can meet the challenges the law presents head-on.”
Swanson said that he’s met with local law enforcement agencies to ensure that they are also ready for the sweeping changes.
“Regularly and frequently would be the two words I would use,” Swanson explained. “They’re concerned as well, because the reality of the new law is, they have to get it to me before I can give it away.”
“They’re concerned about just how much staff they need to add so they can get the evidence and the case file and the video and the 911 calls and all the things the new law requires we have to give to the defense counsel within 15 days.”
Swanson said that he believes the agencies have relayed the requirements to their municipalities. He added that the goal is to have a procedure in place by December 1 in preparation for January 1.