County DA Not Deterred By Recent Trial Outcomes

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson inside his Mayville office. P-J file photo

MAYVILLE — As a public figure, Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said he understands the amount of scrutiny his office has come under after a recent string of acquittals at trial.

Swanson, who became acting DA after David Foley was elected Chautauqua County Court judge in 2015, noted that criticism is part of the job — which is why he said he doesn’t “celebrate wins” after convictions or listens to detractors after losses.

“People aren’t going to pat you on the back,” Swanson told The Post-Journal last week in an in-depth interview. “They’re going to point out what you’re doing wrong. Nobody operates a perfect office. It’s just the way it goes.”

Swanson hit on several topics — from balancing homicide and other high-profile cases while managing a staff of 10 full-time and two part-time employees to butting heads with Foley in court. The district attorney during the last budget session spoke to the Chautauqua County Legislature in hopes of getting another full-time prosecutor in his office, an argument he said he plans to make again this year.

Swanson said the six prosecutors in his office that oversee felonies each handle between 150 to 200 felony cases a year. That’s compared to about 40 each annually for prosecutors in Erie County.

“There’s an over-arching problem to this particular office that I’ve found and it’s the staffing levels,” Swanson said. “That drives a lot of what we do here, unfortunately, and it shouldn’t. We should be able to prosecute our cases as we see fit.”

“At times we have to make decisions on prosecutions based on resources. That’s disheartening,” he continued. “I was in a position last year where I thought we were going to get an additional prosecutor and, late in the game, the legislature pulled that money.”

However, with acquittals in two murder and one attempted murder cases since taking the helm, Swanson has been the target of criticism from the public and local officials. Among those who have voiced displeasure with the DA’s office is Legislature Chairman PJ Wendel.

“The record of the DA is less than admirable,” Wendel said when asked if he would support a budget increase to the District Attorney’s Office. “There are a lot of pieces to that, but we have to get the pieces right.”

Swanson said the majority of cases handled by his office — about 98 percent — result in a conviction as most are handled through plea bargains and not trials. Swanson said he understands the frustration some may have with the lack of convictions in the few cases that have made it to court.

“Being a public figure from what I’ve learned is that there are certain people who won’t be happy no matter what you do,” he said. “That being said, our obligation here is to develop cases that we can go with and get convictions.”