‘Wanting The Best People’

County District Attorney Responds To Judge’s Ruling That First Assistant District Attorney Can’t Serve

Patrick Swanson

MAYVILLE — District Attorney Patrick Swanson has experienced some difficulty in his office with current employees and desired future hires.

The problem?

A state-mandated residency requirement included in the Public Officers Law that states all assistant district attorneys in his office must reside in Chautauqua County if they work in the county.

Swanson attempted to get the Chautauqua County Legislature to allow him to change the requirement by allowing him to hire outside help for his office –as up to four attorneys foreign to Chautauqua County were requested to potentially be hired — and pursue an exemption to the state law, which he still plans on doing without the legislature’s approval.

Two days later, Judge David Foley held a hearing and ruled that one of Swanson’s currently employed attorneys, First ADA Michael Flaherty, is “unqualified” to serve in his position since it was revealed he does not live in Chautauqua County. He began working for Swanson in September and was formerly the first assistant district attorney and acting district attorney of Erie County.

Without an exemption that 17 counties and all New York City boroughs have obtained, the state Public Officers Law states attorneys can originate from other areas and be hired in other county offices under the condition that they move to the county in which they work.

Swanson disagrees with the residency requirement and has stated at multiple meetings and with The Post-Journal that he wants to hire the most qualified candidates regardless of where they live. While Republicans on the legislature challenge that Swanson, a Democrat, has not done all he can to recruit attorneys locally, Swanson plans to appeal the decision that Flaherty is unqualified to serve on cases and wants to go through means other than the legislature to receive an exemption from the state law for the county.

In a response to the result of the Flaherty hearing, Swanson said the issue isn’t black-and-white and that there are legal opinions, as were argued by Counsel ADA Christopher Belling during the hearing, that detail how some attorneys in the DA’s office, notably those who are not in line to succeed the DA himself, could be exempt from the residency requirement. Foley did not agree and cited Attorney General opinions to support his ruling.

“Mike’s extremely qualified,” Swanson said and underlined how he thinks that should be what’s important in the matter of Flaherty serving the county.

Flaherty has 25 years of experience in legal work and was seen as the best replacement for the former First ADA. Swanson said he didn’t want to hire newly graduated law students into a position he said needed more experience to ensure efficiency of the office. He said Flaherty would normally be in charge of handling approximately 150 felony cases per year. Swanson added that he wants to hire locally for entry-level positions if candidates are available.

“I’m still going to pursue the residency exemption,” Swanson said. “This all falls back to wanting the best people.”