JAMESTOWN – The two candidates for Chautauqua County District Attorney spent much of Thursday night’s debate at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts attacking each other’s record as litigators.
Republican Jason Schmidt, a Fredonia defense attorney vying for current District Attorney Patrick Swanson’s (D) seat, slammed Swanson’s trial record, which includes a series of mistrials and indictment dismissals from County Judge David Foley.
Schmidt specifically cited Foley’s decision earlier this month to dismiss the second-degree murder indictment against Jamestown man Julio Montanez. If elected, he says he wants to change the culture of the District Attorney’s Office.
“I’m running for District Attorney because I believe there is a culture of losing here in Chautauqua County,” Schmidt said. “I think Mr. Swanson is a good man, I think he’s a good guy. But I don’t think he’s capable of doing the job here. And it’s not just my opinion. The statistics bear that out.”
Later in the debate, Swanson discussed the concept of a prosecutor attempting to win. He says that a victory isn’t the most important outcome he and his office strive to achieve.
“This blanket claim that we are not getting the job here, and that he’s going to do more winning, I don’t know how you back that up,” Swanson said. “Any prosecutor in this state is going to tell you one thing. They’re going to tell you, the prosecutor’s goal is not to win at all costs….It’s very important that you seek justice.”
The incumbent, during one segment, accused Schmidt of prosecutorial misconduct after having two separate convictions overturned while working in the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office. Swanson claims that Schmidt is the only Chautauqua County prosecutor in the 2000’s to have convictions overturned.
Schmidt confirmed those cases during his response while also saying Swanson’s jab was nothing short of a deflection from his record.
“When you don’t have a good record on which to run, you reach back into your opponent’s history,” Schmidt said. “Go back about 15 years or so to when your opponent was a young, inexperienced prosecutor and made a mistake and by using the words, legal mumbo jumbo, inappropriately, and that’s what I did.”
“I’m just like anyone else here, I make mistakes.”
Swanson says that a candidate’s history is, indeed, crucial to a voter’s decision-making process.
“I think your history matters, Mr. Schmidt, because you’re running on it. You’re running on your experience, and you’re experience shows you’ve made the same mistake twice,” Swanson said. “In fact, the Appellate Division had to tell you that.”
“The same mistakes keep getting made over and over again. Overzealous prosecution, overzealous representation, these are the types of mistakes prosecutors try to find a way to avoid,” he added.
Swanson previously defeated Schmidt for District Attorney in 2016.
WRFA Public Affairs Director Jason Sample moderated the debate. WJTN-AM News Director Terry Frank and WNYNewsNow News Director Justin Gould were also on the panel during the debate.