OWEGO — Continued strain on the Tioga County District Attorney’s office from the state’s recently imposed criminal justice reforms will prompt legislators to approve another round of personnel changes within the office.
District Attorney Kirk Martin discussed the reforms and his new request at Thursday’s legislative work session.
Martin explained that, while he thought he had a solid plan to meet the increased demands the new laws imposed, countless attorney resignations weren’t anticipated throughout the state.
He quoted Mike Tyson, saying “you have a plan until you get punched in the face and it all changes.”
Martin explained that DA offices across the state are “hemorrhaging” assistant DAs since the changes have gone into place.
In Tioga County, two resignation letters were submitted last month.
“They just don’t want to do that … They’re all going into private practice, because they just don’t want to do this anymore.” Martin continued. “If anyone is doing the job because they want to make a difference in their community, trying to make the community safer, it’s really demoralizing to people in my profession.”
Police officers and judges feel the same way, he said.
Legislator Dale Weston asked what the state is trying to accomplish with the changes.
“The problem was that people that’re poor, are put in jail alongside the people that’re rich,” said Legislator Tracy Monell. “The people that have money get out, and the people that don’t have any money sit in jail.”
“That’s one of the reasons they point to when they say they’re in favor of all this stuff,” Martin explained. “Really, at the heart of it, in my opinion, they don’t like people like me, and they don’t like police officers.”
“I’ll say this — I’ve never known anybody to be in jail just because they’re poor,” Martin said. “You may not be able to make bail, but you were arrested because there was probable cause to arrest you and put you there.”
He likened the changes to tying one hand behind the DA’s back while walking into the court room.
Giving an example, Martin said “it’s been long-standing practice for decades that when a criminal case was started — especially at the felony level — I would get the paperwork and present the evidence to a grand jury to get an indictment.”
That might take a few weeks or a couple months, Martin said, but noted that in the meantime the defendant could request to have the bail lowered or go to a bail bondsman.
He also explained that defendants could file motions to ask for the DA to turn over material from his file to adequately prepare for the hearing and eventual trial.
“Fair enough — that’s fine, right?” Martin said. “The new law requires me to turn everything over to the defendant in 15 days.”
Martin said that among those files required to be turned over, is a list of witnesses he anticipates calling during a trial.
“There’s no possible way that I know all the people I’d call to trial within 15 days, and why on earth do I need to do the defense’s work for them?” Martin said. “Why can’t I just turn over the police report and the defense attorney can figure out for themselves the witnesses they would anticipate being called? They stacked the deck against us.”
Martin reminded legislators that lawmakers did not ask input from DAs, law enforcement or judges, when writing the new laws — “they don’t want our input.”
In order to “stop the hemorrhaging” of much needed positions, legislators are expected to approve next week an increase in salaries within the office after the elimination of one position, and using those saved funds to spread into the existing salaries within the office.
Martin also explained that the position to be abolished served the purpose of having a dedicated lawyer going through sections of new law in order to understand the new processes while ensuring the office is acting in full compliance with the new laws — which he now feels is the case.
Legislator Ed Hollenbeck confirmed that the DA’s budget would not increase with the changes.
Martin said he’ll need to take six months to “see if he can make it work with what he’s got.”