EDITORIAL: Czajka for district attorney

“OFF YEAR” IS THE TERM applied to elections in odd-number years. It implies that because no national or state offices are at stake voting is , aahhh, not such a big deal.

Maybe so if your property taxes aren’t a big deal or if you don’t have to drive when it snows. And voting won’t make the slightest difference if you have no interest in what happens when people in this county are accused of a crime. But those of us who do care about such things will make critical choices when we vote on Tuesday, November 3.

County voters will choose a district attorney for a four-year term. The candidates are Paul Czajka, the incumbent, and Kenneth L. Golden, a former assistant district attorney (ADA). Both are intelligent, generally thoughtful legal professionals.

If law enforcement was primarily a partisan subject, the decision would come down to the fact that Mr. Czajka is running on the Republican line with the endorsement of the Conservative, Independence parties and a Reform line versus Mr. Golden on the Democratic ticket with a Women’s Equality line. But the choice for this powerful position deserves more consideration than a reflex ideology.

Start with experience. Mr. Golden was an ADA for six years. He handled appeals and misdemeanors. This is essential legal work. He also says these cases and his government and private civil law practice have prepared him for trying defendants accused of major felonies. That’s a startling claim.

Every field has its specialties, including the law, and prosecuting criminal defendants on behalf of the people of the state of New York is one of them. Asking voters to believe that appellate work teaches a lawyer, even a talented one, all the skills necessary to convince a jury someone’s guilty of a serious crime rings hollow.

When Mr. Golden argues that his legal background gives him the skills needed to become DA, that only invites a comparison–unfavorable to Mr. Golden–with the experience of Mr. Czajka, who has spent the majority of his career as either a district attorney or County Court judge. In his current term, as when he was previously DA in the 1980s, Mr. Czajka has tried felony cases and won convictions. That’s what the core job is.

Yes, there are exceptions. The job also requires knowing when not to prosecute. Sometimes it’s for lack of evidence, other times it’s in “the interests of justice.” Restraint, too, is a measure of a prosecutor’s judgment. Mr. Czajka’s record indicates he understands the limits of the law and the necessity for compassion.

Mr. Golden has raised issues that need to be discussed, including how best to build public trust in the police, prosecutors and judges who enforce and apply the law. But his campaign calls for worthy programs at the margins of responsibilities instead of the primary duties of investigation and prosecution. And assertions that the DA has not served the county well are refuted by the results obtained by Mr. Czajka and his staff.

Voters have no reason to question Mr. Golden’s sincerity, but the campaign has raised questions about his views on the central task of a prosecutor. In that regard alone, Mr. Czajka is the clear choice.

Mr. Golden and his supporters cite two cases involving Mr. Czajka, who they say cost the county large sums of money paid to private lawyers. These are bogus insinuations if you believe the state appellate court judges who upheld Mr. Czajka in both cases. In one matter the court affirmed the DA’s authority to determine which cases he would dismiss rather than try. In the other matter, state judges agreed that the DA should have records he sought as part of a child abuse investigation.

It sounds as if the Golden campaign is blaming Mr. Czajka for doing his job. That’s clever politics but it’s faulty logic.

There’s plenty of evidence nationwide that our laws and some of those who enforce them unjustly target individuals based race and economic status. As citizens, we have a responsibility to remain vigilant to abuses of authority and to press for smarter ways to combat crime. One way to do that is to elect leaders who act in the public interest.

Vague promises of reform are no substitute for a record of achievement. Paul Czajka has demonstrated his commitment to public safety and a reasoned, fair application of the law. I urge you to vote for him November 3.

 

 

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