DA upset over rejection to hire outside county

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Legislature voted down a resolution with a 12-5 vote that would have permitted the District Attorney to hire assistant district attorneys from outside the county.

The five Democrats on the legislature voted in favor of the change, while the 12 Republicans rejected it.

Swanson, a Democrat, said 17 of 62 counties, including Wyoming and Oswego counties, in New York and New York City boroughs already allow the exemption for similar reasons: to allow DA’s offices to find the most qualified candidates and not require them to move from their current residence if they do not already reside in the county.

“Unfortunately the controversy seems to be partisan,” Swanson said.

He also noted that he doesn’t necessarily need the legislatures’ approval to qualify for the exemption. He wanted to go through the county first as a courtesy and to “get the ball rolling.” Searching for the exemption, Swanson said, is a search to secure the efficiency of the district attorney’s office for the future. He said he is frustrated and unsure of how to go about applying for the exemption at this point.

Currently, Swanson employs 11 ADAs, and he’s looking to hire two to three more. He said similarly sized counties employ 15 to 23 ADAs. He said the number of available attorneys who want to work in the DA’s office and live in Chautauqua County is continually dwindling.

“I thought what I made was a reasonable request,” Swanson said. “This is more of a plan for the future. (The state law) is an old law; I’m not sure of the rationale behind it. It’s old thinking; there’s a need. I was asking for their support on something that just makes common sense to me.”

Swanson said he is concerned with the promotion of his office and having it staffed by the most qualified people. He said he has already had to turn down qualified ADA candidates on two occasions because they did not meet the residency requirement. So far during his term, Swanson has hired five ADAs — with one starting Jan. 9 — but he still cites the turnover as high.

He explained various factors that dissuade up-and-coming attorneys from wanting to work in the DA’s Office. Swanson said it’s already tough to find people who want to work in criminal law, with many electing to work in the private sector and make more money. He also added that the allure of living in a metropolitan area is something Chautauqua County can’t offer its candidates.

“I don’t know why the request wasn’t supported,” said Swanson, who doesn’t think where ADAs live will affect their ability to do their jobs in a professional manner.

Swanson would like to hire candidates from adjoining Erie and Cattaraugus counties. He said politics has no place in his office, so he doesn’t understand why it would be a problem to hire residents from nearby counties. Swanson expressed his disappointment regarding how he thinks politics may have affected Wednesday night’s vote.

“I tried to explain this is just to have the option,” Swanson said.

He said hiring good applicants in the county is always paramount but added that those best candidates aren’t always available locally.

Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone agreed that it’s best to hire locally and said that it’s always worked for his department. Barone said it’s good to employ county residents and that it’s best to accommodate young professionals who return home.

Barone employs 10 assistant public defenders in the criminal division, all but one of whom were born and raised in the county. All three of his family court attorneys were born and raised in the county. He said hiring locally helps provide the best defense for clients because attorneys are more familiar with the people who live in Chautauqua County.

“I’ve been fortunate,” Barone said. “Our personnel department has been very helpful advertising (and) promoting job opportunities.”

Barone’s office has received state grants to hire several new attorneys in the next few months. He said there will be various practicing attorneys he can pull from. He said that these positions should not be political.

“You just hope this stuff doesn’t become politicized,” Barone said.