McCaffrey photo by MICHAEL JOHNSON. Schiener photo by LARRY TETAMORE
Greg McCaffrey has been appointed Livingston County District Attorney. One of his first acts was to release Eric Schiener, an Assistant DA with over 12 years of experience who is a likely opponent to McCaffrey in the upcoming November DA election.
District Attorney election
McCaffrey in, Schiener out at the DA’s office
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Gregory J. McCaffrey as the District Attorney for Livingston County on May 18. McCaffrey, 36, took the oath of office on Monday, May 21.
McCaffrey fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Thomas Moran, who was elected to the Seventh Judicial District Court in November.
As near as historic sources can determine, McCaffrey is the first Democrat to ever hold the office of district attorney in the 180 year history of Livingston County.
In New York State the Governor may appoint county district attorneys when the elected office is vacated by resignation or death. The gubernatorial appointment is only good until the end of a one year election cycle. On Jan. 1, 2013 McCaffrey’s appointed term will end.
The next district attorney will be the winner in this November’s election, and will then serve a full four year term beginning Jan. 1.
McCaffrey, a resident of Lima, until his current appointment had served as attorney for the Town of Conesus and was a partner in private practice at the Jones and Skivington firm, based in Geneseo. He had earlier served as an assistant in the Monroe County District Attorney’s office.
Shortly after taking office on Monday, McCaffrey, in one of his first acts, fired Assistant District Attorney Eric Schiener, a Republican who in February had declared his own intention to seek the elected district attorney seat.
Schiener, a veteran in the district attorney’s office, immediately confirmed his circumstance in a Monday Facebook posting, stating, “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve Livingston County as a prosecutor for the last 12 1/2 years. Governor Cuomo’s political appointee has let me go today. For our community’s sake I wish him well and ask that he keep the seat warm for me in January.”
The man who many see as the natural successor to Tom Moran, Livingston County Assistant District Attorney Eric Schiener, has had no easy campaign trail.
Following Moran’s departure at the end of December, Schiener stepped in as acting head of the district attorney’s office. However, Schiener discovered that the federal Hatch Act prevents him from simultaneously serving as acting district attorney and campaigning for district attorney job in the upcoming election.
Schiener consequently resigned as acting district attorney and took the job of assistant district attorney. In the assistant’s role, under the Hatch Act, he needed to refrain from supervising staff whom themselves dealt with federally-funded programs. Meanwhile, retired Livingston County Judge Ron Cicoria assumed the position of acting district attorney.
Schiener faced opposition from within his own party even before he formally declared his candidacy. Livonia attorney and justice Stephen Sessler likewise announced his intention to seek the district attorney seat.
While Schiener’s long tenure in the office makes him the usually acknowledged favorite among Republicans, Sessler’s candidacy can hardly be discounted, especially given his background as a prosecutor for the U.S. military. The Sessler candidacy means the final Republican nominee for district attorney will be decided in the primary election.
When the Livingston County Republican committee members met in the supervisors’ chambers last week to designate their preferences for the November ballot, the district attorney selection was the only spot left undecided.
Designations were made for Cathy Young to continue in the 57 State Senatorial District, Patrick Gallivan to continue in the 59th State Senatorial District, Richard Burke as candidate for the 133rd Assembly district, Joe Caluorie to continue as county coroner, and Nancy Leven to continue another four years as Republican election commissioner.
Also, five delegates and five alternates were named to the Seventh District judicial convention to make supreme count nominations.
Schiener had been the expected Republican committee disignee. The decision was postponed when the committee learned that the Livingston County Board of Supervisors was conducting an investigation into an alleged incident involving Schiener.
Supervisors’ investigation abandoned
Recently local government officials and media were the recipients of copies of two hand-written letters by employees of The Statesmen tavern. In the letters a female bartender and a bouncer claimed that one evening in the spring of 2010 Schiener had behaved inappropriately at The Statesmen.
Police reportedly were called in, who in turn called District Attorney Moran, who then removed Schiener from the premise, the letters claim. The bouncer additionally claims to have been injured by Schiener after he initially removed him from the premise and Schiener attempted to forcibly re-enter.
The County News was informed on Monday that the supervisors’ investigation into the incident has now been abandoned after the bartender decided to offer no further comment.
Furthermore, with Schiener suddenly no longer employed with the county, the supervisors have deemed the incident outside their jurisdiction.
Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian told The County News he had no recollection of any such incident taking place. Osganian did provide a 2008 report which showed Schiener, in the company of two other attorneys, calling in a complaint while they were at The Statesmen. However, there is nothing on record indicating Schiener was the subject of a complaint.
Speaking for the Republican committee, Republican Chairman Lowell Conrad stated, “Due to the nasty tone of these letters, we feel it is fair to give Eric a chance to clear himself and to find out just what this is all about.”
“I suspect Eric would have done very well [in the designating vote], even after [we learned about] the letters, but we just felt the process should be put on hold,” Conrad added.
Conrad said the committee will convene “somewhere soon” to make the DA designation, but could not confirm a definite date.
McCaffrey feels honored by appointment
Greg McCaffrey spoke with The County News on Tuesday, his second day on his new job.
McCaffrey revealed his name had surfaced as a candidate appointee as early as October — when there was consternation over the Democratic failure to field a candidate in the Seventh Judicial contest and awareness that a former Monroe County assistant prosecutor, who had worked under Howard Relin and Mike Green, was on hand to step into the opening.
As the governor’s appointee, McCaffrey is fully recognized as the Livingston County District Attorney. There is no “acting” qualification to the title. He is free to campaign to reclaim his position in the November election, with no Hatch Act restrictions of any kind.
McCaffrey emphasizes, however, that he is not at this time thinking about November.
“The most important thing right now is that I have the responsibility of managing this office,” he said. “I have experience as an assistant, but this is a job I’m new to. It has to be 100 percent of my attention. I am focused on getting it right and making sure the county is served,”
“It would not be fair to anybody if my campaign or candidacy took precedence over what I’ve been chosen to do here,” McCaffrey asserted.
McCaffrey confides that, while the appointment itself was not unexpected, the timing, coming this past week, was completely unexpected.
“I had interviewed for the position and I had a background investigation for the position completed,” he reported, adding, “I am honored the governor looked at my credentials and background and went out on a limb for me.”
Commenting upon his decision to dismiss Schiener, McCaffrey denies any political motivation, but points out that Schiener, in his decision to campaign for the permanent district attorney spot, resigned from his acting position and took a less active role in the office with a significant pay cut.
“It was not something I was happy I had to do, but I do see it as a numbers game,” McCaffrey continued. “Somebody had to go. We only have so much money to pay so much staff. Adding Greg McCaffrey to the office, somebody has to be subtracted. In fairness to Ron Cicoria, I made the unilateral decision to let Eric go. Why should Ron be the odd man out when all he did was to enable Eric to run for office?”
McCaffrey subscribes to the notion that politics should play no role in the day-to-day workings of the office of district attorney.
“I don’t care what party my assistants are, so long as everyone works hard, serves the residents of this county and works with law enforcement. I have full confidence in the five assistants and Ron Cicoria.”
“While I get comfortable with the local law enforcement and being a prosecutor again, these six people are capable of handling anything I give them.”
McCaffey hopes the fresh viewpoint he will bring to the office can be good for all involved. His background in the Monroe County way of doing things and his experience as a defense criminal attorney in different counties will assure a new perspective, he believes.
“I’m not saying anything here is broken, but I’ve seen other ways of doing things,” he said. “Tom Moran did a wonderful job here for 18 years, but I do have prior experience and have been trained by some of the best prosecutors in Monroe County. I have some ideas that might make this place better, but of course I will need to work with the staff and local law enforcement to see what they can do and what the county enables us to do.”
“It will be a chance to make tweaks and try new things, but we certainly won’t try to turn the whole car over.”
Beside his experience as a prosecutor, McCaffrey notes that he comes from a law enforcement family and has grown up around law enforcement. He father was a senior investigator for the state police and a current U.S. Marshal.
“There is a younger law enforcement generation in this county,” McCaffrey observes. “This could be the partnership for the next 20 years.”
“But if I’m only here until the end of December, I’ll still try to make a difference in those seven months. I owe that to this county I’ve called home for 31 years.”
Schiener demands that investigation continues
Interviewing Schiener, it was his “first Tuesday in 12 years not wearing a tie.”
As Tom Moran’s first assistant for the past six years, it made “perfect sense” that Schiener would succeed Moran into the position of district attorney.
“But this was a seat not open for 18 years. There have been a lot of attorneys waiting in the wings,” Schiener realizes. “Going into it I knew it was going to be something not easy.”
“I have nothing bad to say about Greg. He’s a great defense attorney,” Schiener continued. “We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but that’s the nature of the adversarial courtroom process.”
Even though he is a member of the contrary political party, Schiener himself sought the governor’s appointment to district attorney at the beginning of this year.
“The governor seemed to be someone putting criminal justice first with DNA and other advocacy,” Schiener observed, prompting him to take the long shot while knowing “appointments are extremely political.”
In seeking the position, Schiener argued that an outside person, especially a defense attorney, might foster a less-then-optimal relationship between the office and law enforcement, and create potential for wholesale dismissal of staff.
With McCaffrey getting the appointment, “I don’t think anyone in my position could have expected I would stay,” Schiener admits.
“Greg and I had a cordial conversation and I offered to help him in the transition in any way he needed,” Schiener noted. “It’s a difficult situation for him and he can call me anytime. The position doesn’t forgive inexperience.”
Commenting upon The Statesmen letters, Schiener said, “You don’t go into being a prosecutor or ADA to be popular.”
“It comes as quite a surprise that I am able to dislocate shoulders and the like,” he joked.
“When the county sees fit to finally talk to me, I am going to insist they continue their investigation, because when they do, I will be cleared of any accusations.” Schiener proclaimed. “They owe that to me for the effect this has had on my campaign.”
“I did not get into a bar fight and none of these allegations are true,” Schiener unequivocally states. “The timing of it and the way it was delivered should have been enough [for the supervisors] to not give it the time of day.”
Schiener does acknowledge that an incident occurred at the Statement in 2008 “where I and two counterparts were almost beat up.”
“After that incident The Statesmen is not a bar where I hang out,” he added.
Schiener himself has never been interviewed by the supervisors’ private investigator. He is even aware that there are some supervisors with no knowledge of the “investigation.”
Schiener said he looks forward to running a vigorous campaign for district attorney, winning the September 13 primary and the November election.