Agreement With Dunkirk Attorney Troubles County DA
Even though the Dunkirk City Council has authorized its part-time attorney to prosecute traffic tickets, county District Attorney Jason Schmidt has some concerns on how the city attorney is being paid.
Earlier this month the Common Council agreed to a six-month pilot program for the prosecutions. In the approved agreement, 40% of traffic violation fine income will be given to city attorney Richard Morrisroe and 10% to his paralegal. Dunkirk will keep the other 50%. The Common Council predicts Dunkirk will get about $25,000 in fine income annually from traffic violations.
That agreement concerns Schmidt, and he sent an email to the council about it.
“I recognize the sensitivities and considerations here and have made inquiries concerning the terms of the agreement Dunkirk City reached with its attorney relative to the prosecution of Vehicle and Traffic Law violations,” he wrote. “It is imperative for all involved that my delegation of authority to prosecute (vehicle and traffic) violations be implemented in a manner that promotes public confidence, avoids and appearance of impropriety and ensures that the new policy is undertaken ethically.”
Schmidt said before the agreement was approved, he was unaware on how Morrisroe would be compensated. “I have not had any hand in the terms of each city’s agreement with its respective attorneys and did not intend to involve myself in any of that, but it’s in all of our interests that we not create a situation where it may be construed that the city attorney is receiving a cut of the revenue derived from fine monies as that arrangement may be perceived by the public as a form of kickback that incentivizes the imposition of fines against our citizenry. That negative perception — which appears to be manifesting now based on inquiries I’ve received and public comments of which I’ve been made aware – does not serve any of us or the public which we serve,” he wrote.
In a follow up interview with The Post-Journal/OBSERVER, Schmidt said he doesn’t want to have a situation where it appears plea bargaining is benefiting a specific individual, which in this case would be the city attorney. “I’m concerned about this arrangement that Dunkirk has reached with the city attorney because you could look at that as sort of a kickback,” he said.
For example, a speeding ticket that has a $150 fine would have part of it go to the state and part of it stay in Dunkirk. If that speeding ticket is reduced to a parking ticket, the entire $150 would stay local and with this new agreement, Morrisroe would getting 40% of that fine money, plus another 10% for his paralegal.
Schmidt said along with sending an email to the council, he’s spoken to both Mayor Wilfred Rosas and Morrisroe about his concerns. At this point, he’s waiting to see if the agreement will be modified or not. “The public has to be confident that it’s going to be fair,” he said.
Schmidt noted that in Jamestown, the firm that prosecutes traffic tickets doesn’t get any revenue in return. The fine money just goes to the city coffers.
Schmidt’s office has the power to veto the agreement. When asked if he will do that, Schmidt said for now he is waiting to see what the Dunkirk Common Council does in response to his email.