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DA, Sheriff: New Discovery Rules Will Impact Offices

Pictured in middle, Patrick Swanson, Chautauqua County District attorney, discusses his proposed 2020 budget with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety and Audit and Control committees in Mayville Friday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

MAYVILLE — According to the Chautauqua County district attorney, the most sweeping criminal justice changes the state has ever seen will happen at the beginning of next year.

On Friday, District Attorney Patrick Swanson said the new discovery laws that will go into effect throughout the state Jan. 1 will have a significant impact on his office. That is why Swanson had requested an increase in the number of employees in his 2020 budget. He had requested a full-time assistant district attorney, paralegal and a part-time narcotics investigator.

However, Swanson only received a full-time assistance district attorney and a part-time narcotics investigator in the tentative budget prepared by County Executive George Borrello. Swanson asked that legislators not cut the additional allocation to his office.

“If you fund (the additional employees), it will mean a lot,” he said.

Swanson said his office has 11.5 attorneys, including himself, who average a caseload of 299 a year, which is the highest average in the state. In comparison, Swanson said the average median county district attorneys office attorneys average around 128.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone pictured during Friday's budget discussion in Mayville. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

“The numbers just don’t add up. Now magnify that with what is coming,” he said, referencing the new state criminal justice reforms starting next year.

Swanson said because of the new criminal justice reforms — including speeding up the process of turning over discovery information to the defense to 15 days — the heavy workload will only increase in the DA’s office.

Currently, Swanson said only a significant amount of discovery is done on 20% of cases. He said next year, that will increase to 100%, which includes an increase in the amount of information and evidence handled for each traffic ticket issued in the county. He said the DA’s office will have to prioritize cases because of the lack of manpower, with the most serious offenses receiving the most attention. He added this mean there will be less of a focus on traffic tickets, which will decrease the amount of revenues the state, county and local municipalities receive.

Swanson said the county averages round 15,000 traffic tickets a year. He said, on average, around $4 million in revenue is generated by those infractions, with around $2 million going to the state.

“The money’s not going to be realized,” he said.

In a budget discussion with the Sheriff’s Office prior to Swanson’s hearing, Sheriff James Quattrone said he hopes the decrease in revenues received through traffic tickets across the state might change the minds of state officials about the new discovery requirements.

Swanson echoed Quattrone’s statement when asked about what will happen once discovery is shorten to 15 days on all charges.

“The real concern is we don’t know,” he said.

Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, asked if the DA’s office can ask for an extension on the discovery of an additional 30 days. Swanson said the district attorney can make a request, but because there is no precedent because it’s a new laws, there is no way to know what cases will be granted an extension.

“When 62 DA’s feel the same way, there’s going to be some complications with this,” Swanson said.

During the Sheriff’s Office budget discussion, Quattrone said the new criminal justice reform of cashless bail will impact the number of federal inmates at the county jail.

He said the Sheriff’s Office has averaged holding 50 federal inmates this year. However, he said the department has budgeted less revenues in 2020 because it’s expected the average will be around 30. He added that because fewer people will be in all jails in Western New York because of cashless jail — those charged will be given an appearance ticket for a future court date — there will be more competition to house federal inmates.

“It’s a moving target. I’m not sure what to expect,” Quattrone said about the number of federal inmates. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’re going to be.”

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