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DUNKIRK – The two candidates for Chautauqua County District Attorney took off the gloves and slammed each other’s records during a debate Friday on WDOE radio in Dunkirk.
District Attorney Patrick Swanson and challenger Jason Schmidt lambasted each other while making their cases to the voters.
Swanson opened by saying his office is doing more with less than any District Attorney’s office in the state.
“I’m asking the voters to think about the situation we have, who they want running the DA’s office. We’re doing more with less than any county in the state.”
Schmidt said he didn’t want to enter the race but feels the office lacks leadership or positive results.
“I’m not a politician. I don’t like politics. I didn’t want to get in this race but I did because I believe in this county. There’s problems here in Chautauqua County. There’s so many its hard to list.”
He said there are issues when someone is charged with the attempted murder of a county Sheriff’s deputy but is only convicted to stealing the deputies gun, or when an admitted child rapist serves only months in lockup while facing up to 20 years incarceration.
Schmidt chided Swanson for touting a roughly 17 percent prosecution rate and thinking its good.
“His wins are reductions of felonies all the way down to non-criminal dispositions. That’s not a win,” Schmidt said.
Swanson defended his record, saying many of the reduction cases are people dealing with addictions and trying to find “a sliver of justice” whle trying to help rehabilitate people.
“The goal of our system, in a lot of respects, is to rehabilitate,” Swanson said. “The goal of the criminal justice system is not to prosecute people at all costs.”
Schmidt countered that the prosecution rates continue to slide every year, which he called unacceptable.
As for bail reform laws, Swanson said Albany disregarded the stakeholders, police, attorneys and the public.
The biggest problem is that the bail reform took away discretion from judges.
“You get hard and fast rules that just don’t work,” Swanson said.
That said, Schmidt said prosecutors have to work within the framework of current law.
“If you don’t get convictions, people are not going to be held accountable for the crimes they commit,” Schmidt said.
He said shootings have gone up and said police call Swanson’s Gun and Done Program the Gun and None Program. The Gun and Done program is policy that Swanson will not offer plea deals on cases involving firearms.
Victims are not getting good communication with or from the District Attorney’s office, Schmidt said. Swanson countered that his office is in contact with victims as much as is possible with the staff he has and that he doesn’t like Schmidt taking shots at his staff.
“I’m certainly not disparaging the staff of the DA’s office,” Schmidt responded.
“But you are,” Swanson interrupted.
“It starts at the top with the DA himself. When the DA doesn’t acknowledge the problem, he’s just repeating the mistakes,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a lack of leadership and I’m not personally attacking you. I like you personally,” Schmidt said.
As for his prosecution rate, Swanson said just because Schmidt attacks them doesn’t make his accusations a fact.
“Just because Mr. Schmidt says this number is bad really is irrelevant,” Swanson said.
Swanson said Schmidt would cost the county taxpayers more money because he has a conflict of interest in that he cannot prosecute any of the people he has defended, so outside prosecutors would be needed.
“He owes the people what the real cost is going to be,” Swanson said.
In closing, Schmidt reiterated his disdain for politics, but said people need to consider the service they have been receiving from Swanson.
“I don’t relish this. I don’t want to be personally attacked, I don’t like politics,” Schmidt said. “It’s personally distasteful. I don’t want to sit here and joust and go through this.”
He urged voters to talk with law enforcement to educate themselves on who would do the best job as District Attorney.
Swanson, in closing, said he also urges voters to talk to deputies, police and State Troopers about his efforts.
“I’ve committed myself to this county,” Swanson said. “You have someone in the DA’s office who understands the people of this county.”
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