District Attorney Candidate
Eric Schiener: Always and only a public prosecutor
Eric Schiener asserts that the theme of his campaign has been constant since Day One:
“Who could be better for the next DA than someone who has worked in that office and done that job for the last 12-and-a-half years? Than someone who has worked with Livingston County victims and Livingston County law enforcement?” he asks.
“Do you want someone who has dedicated their life and career to one thing only — keeping Livingston County safe and criminals off the street — or someone who may have been a prosecutor at one time, but then choose to use that public training for their own benefit in the private sector?”
As a 12 year member of the state District Attorney’s Association, Schiener has participated in a regular annual summer college in Syracuse with fellow prosecutors where ideas are shared.
“It’s never crossed my mind to put out a shingle or do defense work. I would never fault anyone else for making the opposite choice. I’m just telling you about me,” Schiener stated. “For me, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing justice done and helping a victim and working with the men and women in law enforcement.”
“I don’t see myself ever chasing the big dollar signs or the big political positions.”
It is perhaps noteworthy that Schiener’s wife, Tiffany Lee Schiener, is also a public prosecutor, with ten years of experience working in the Federal Prosecutors Office of the Western District of New York.
Not that his job was ever easy, Schiener emphasizes. As district attorney or first assistant, you are witness to the county’s deepest tragedies — and often are expected, in the company of the Sheriff or other high official — to bring the heartbreaking news of the death of a loved one to family members.
“This race is going to boil down to the choices that each man who is running for the office has made in his career,” Schiener believes.
“Do you what someone who has been a career prosecutor dedicated to keeping Livingston County safe — or someone who has been getting defendants out of jail?”
Four bigger than 12?
Contrasting his 12.5 years experience as a prosecutor in Livingston County to McCaffrey’s ‘nearly five’ years as a Monroe County prosecutor, Schiener is critical of what he calls McCaffrey’s “four is greater than 12” math.
That is, McCaffrey has called attention to the much greater volume of cases he had to handle while serving as a Monroe County assistant district attorney.
“In a big office, the police officers sometimes don’t even get seen by the ADAs. They are faceless badge numbers on a report,” Schiener offered. McCaffrey calling attention to his admittedly large — but also more standardized — workload in Monroe County is condescending to the manner and methods of arrest and prosecution in Livingston County, Schiener thinks.
Among the consequences of such bulk prosecution, Monroe has a terrible record of handling revoked drivers licenses — to the detriment of public safety in not only Monroe, but surrounding counties, Schiener charged.
“In Livingston County, you know every officer,” he said. “You build something with them from the moment that call comes in at 3 a.m. until later in the day when you are in conference with a law enforcement team. You are on a first name basis with every officer in every agency.”
“We are able to give our cases more attention; the attention they deserve,” Schiener believes. “It’s that kind of relationship which has kept this county safe for decades. That’s how I was trained and that’s how I would continue the job.”
Partamian case a ‘call to arms’
Commenting on the high profile case of Armen Partamian, the SUNY student and ambulance volunteer who died of alcohol poisoning following a fraternity hazing party, Schiener said, “I’m proud of the work that Tom Moran and I put in place after that.”
“It was a call to arms for our office.”
After the case was processed through the district attorney’s office, four students involved in the hazing eventually plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
“We took the position that college students are adults and do make their own decisions, and also the position that their parents sent them here and put their trust in everyone in this community that they will come home ready to face the future — not injured or perhaps dead because of actions of others.”
“Crimes do need to have consequences. That’s how we make people not do things which are against the law and can harm others,” Schiener continued.
Schiener pointed out that this position contrasts significantly with McCaffrey’s ‘college kids will be college kids’ stance in the recent college volleyball team hazing case.
Additionally, Schiener criticized McCaffrey for going on TV camera while the volleyball investigation remained underway: “There may have been someone else who would have come forward, but now decides they won’t after they’ve heard what you’ve told the reporter. You should have waited until you had the facts.”
“That incident speaks volumes about his inexperience,” Schiener said. “Part of the ethical and legal responsibilities of a DA is you can’t jeopardize the case.”
“College students are not special citizens. Yes, they are important to our community, but under the law they need to be treated like everyone else.”
“Our office has always been about evaluating each case on its merits and looking for the highest sustainable charge. And in cases of vulnerable children and elderly persons, we also look for the appropriate maximum sentence. We don’t think of that as ‘over-indicting.’”
Answers charge of slack prison prosecution
In regard to McCaffrey’s implicit charge that the office during Schiener’s tenure was not following through to its best potential on prison contraband, violence and drug cases, Schiener commented, “We’ve had a great relationship with the Department of Correctional Services.”
“Just before I was fired by Mr. McCaffrey, I finished a case with the Inspector General’s Office trying to prevent the entry of drugs into our prisons through the mails. Whenever we had a case important to the safety and well being of the corrections officers and the inmates, we did it.”
“To even raise the specter that we were making decisions based upon race or creed or sexual orientation is ludicrous. Mr. McCaffrey’s insinuations were completely unfair.”
DA as an educator
Although the District Attorney’s office had an outstanding recording of prosecutions under Tom Moran — including an always high ranking statewide in DWI prosecutions — Schiener said he is not campaigning on past success.
“I’m my own man and I’m going to make improvements,” he asserted. “There is an opportunity for the DA to be an educator; to inform the public, law enforcement and the judiciary [about specific cases and general operating principles] and I intend to do a great deal of that. I want to expand the accessibility that citizens have to the office.”
“The office serves every citizen of this county and in some regards we need to do a better job of informing them about what’s happening. My position will be to inform and educate, to make sure citizens knows we’re doing the job and law enforcement is doing its job and that they are protected.”
Schiener realizes, for the purposes of the campaign, the ‘humble prosecutor’ has to be set aside and he needs to start talking about what he has achieved.
As a person ‘who worked long hours and weekends doing a job I was honored to have,’ Schiener admits to being shy about ‘tooting my own horn’ at the beginning of the campaign. However, he has realized, “I have to start talking about myself or I’m not going to be in the job I’m best qualified to do. A lot of people have been pushing me out of my shell.”
Defense attorneys at heart?
Schiener suggests the Oct. 17 debate at SUNY Geneseo “drew the lines of distinction between the three candidates,” by which he meant that both his opponents appeared “still in the defense attorney mindset.”
Greg McCaffrey’s reference to the Kury Spencer, for which he served as defense counsel, was a peculiar choice for a closing statement, Schiener thinks. Spencer was accused of driving under the influence of cough syrup.
“To choose Kury Spencer as a standard bearer for what’s wrong in the DA’s office is very telling about McCaffrey’s motivations and whether he is being truthful when he says he’s a prosecutor at heart.” Schiener said. “I still have visions of seeing the victims’ car at the impound looking like an accordion.”
The defendant in the case had ingested a large quantity of an over-the-counter cough medicine before getting behind the wheel and severely injuring an elderly couple when his vehicle crossed the center highway line.
“Our original thought is always, in a case like this, ‘What’s best for the victims?’” Schiener explained. “We didn’t want to be wheeling this couple into a trial in their wheel chairs.”
With restitution as a key piece, a plea offer allowed for disposition of the case.
“As for Mr. Sessler, he was a prosecutor in the late 80s and 90s,” Schiener noted. “Since then, even though he’s had opportunity after opportunity to do prosecutor’s work, he’s done nothing. Since 1995 there have been 11 openings in the district attorney’s office for ADAs and I’ve never seen Mr. McCaffrey’s or Mr. Sessler’s resumes cross that desk.”
Schiener’s observation at the debate was that McCaffrey focused “on over-indicting and concerns about the consequences of convictions.”
“That’s defense attorney-speak,” Schiener suggested. “At times it seemed like he was running for public defender — even though that’s not an elected office!”
Challenges ‘people’s choice’ moniker
Schiener proposed that Steve Sessler’s latest self-portrayal as the ‘people’s choice is ludicrous.
“I don’t see how that can be. I’m offended that he charges the Republic Committee as being ‘professional politicians.’ The committee are teachers, engineers, firefighters, school board members, Kiwanians, Lions Club members — the backbone of our county — and they’re not paid a dime for what they do.”
“Steve is on the ballot because of the choice of one man, the [Conservative Party chairman] Reverend Jason McGuire — and if anyone is a professional politician McGuire is. He gets [paid] to be a lobbyist in Albany.”