District Attorney Candidate
Greg McCaffrey: ‘Aggressive’ and already on the job
Greg McCaffrey is in his fifth month as the Livingston County District Attorney, working that full time office while campaigning for the election with endorsements form the Democratic and Independence parties.
“Being the district attorney has to have my focus during the day,” he said. “I will not campaign on county time.”
“It’s not my style, so it makes for early mornings and late evenings of campaigning.”
McCaffrey does attend speaking functions for schools, organizations and civic groups in the capacity of district attorney. Although not making campaign pitches at these events, he is being seen as district attorney and that does help his campaign prospects, he believes.
McCaffrey stated that he agrees with his opponent Eric Schiener that voters should be selecting the most experienced candidate.
However, McCaffrey differs with Schiener as to how experience should be measured.
“My experience far exceeds his and is more diverse,” McCaffrey said. “It’s not the number of years you are in an office. It’s the number of cases, the number of trials, the number of grand jury proceedings you have handled.”
“Who is really the most experienced — the guy who does a lot over a short period of time or the guy who does a little over a long period of time?” McCaffrey asked.
“Yes, Eric Schiener has 12-plus years in this office with fine service to this county,” McCaffrey acknowledged, “but I have five high volume years in Monroe County and also five-plus years of high volume defense work, and now I’ve been the district attorney here for five months.”
“My last two years in Monroe County, I was prosecuting major felonies — rape, stabbings, shootings — cases which we fortunately don’t have here in Livingston County in high volume. But if you are capable of going to trial with uncooperative witnesses on someone who is looking at 25 years for a shooting, then I think I should be readily capable of prosecuting a robbery at a minimart or a burglary into someone’s hunting cabin.”
“Take a moment or two to look at everyone’s experience and ask yourself what really is experience,” McCaffrey said.
“Eric has 12 years in this office, but the first three or four years he was working on the appeals and was assigned to the West Sparta and York courts.”
“Then Eric became first assistant, but always under Tom Moran, where any major case was tried by Tom. While he may have been a part of the decision-making process, Eric has very limited grand jury experience and it was always Tom Moran’s decision on how things were done. That’s my take on it.”
“The law is what it is, so what matters is how you approach the cases and conduct yourself in court,” McCaffrey asserts.
“I am quick moving and very aggressive on how I prosecute cases. That is how I was trained in Monroe County — and I think that’s what is in the best interests of justice here as well.”
The new expediency
McCaffrey described the new expediency he has introduced as now routine procedure.
The usual police package delivered to the district attorney’s office contains a thorough and complete police investigation.
“If the package is complete, there is no reason to sit and wait on the case,” McCaffrey advised, contrasting his policy with the previous administration which was “more inclined to wait for attorneys to come to them and schedule for grand jury a couple months out — and not necessarily make an offer.”
“My Monroe County experience, and also my nature,” McCaffrey qualified, “is if I can get through these cases quickly — if the facts are present in the interest of justice — it is my obligation to support the police arrest and, for the victim, move fast. If your house has been broken into, you don’t want to be asked to come to the grand jury in four months. You want to come soon — and it’s even more important in cases of violence and rape, where the victims deserve swift justice and their memories of the crime are fresh.”
“In Monroe County, this method of facilitating justice was a necessity. Here, it is to be preferred,” McCaffrey asserts.
McCaffrey explained that there are two ways a case can get to county court: through grand jury indictment and by agreement on the charges with the defense attorney (called ‘superior court information’ or ‘SCI’).
Offering statistics McCaffrey reported 142-to-89 indictments-to-SCI in 2006; 151-to-98 in 2007; 117-to-125 in 2008; 126-to-104 in 2009; 139-to-113 in 2010; and 114-to-111 in 2011, ratios which approach one-to-one. In fact, when McCaffrey took charge of the office in 2012, the ratio was exactly one-to-one, 48-to-48.
Since McCaffrey has taken charge, the office has indicted 28 cases versus 48 SCI cases.
“I’ve completely flipped the ratio the other way. That is saving this office many hours and the county thousands of dollars,” McCaffrey said.
“All I am doing is taking the charges we could have indicted in grand jury, and by reaching out to the defense attorneys and being more aggressive and streamlined, I’ve gotten those cases up and moved through.”
When the grand jury meets less frequently, much is saved, McCaffrey points out: The cost of prosecutor, police and victim advocates’ time and court reporters; the necessity of victim testimony, and the inconvenience to 23 members of the community serving on the grand jury.
Instead of meeting on alternate Wednesdays, the grand jury may meet as-needed on 48-hour notice.
“This is not being soft on crime by any stretch,” McCaffrey emphasized. “We’re taking those charges that we would have proved to the grand jury and getting them upstairs [in the court room] in an agreed-upon manner.”
“This is not a reflection on the previous administration,” McCaffrey stated. “It is a different style of doing things. It’s always asking, ‘What are we waiting for? Why are we sitting on cases? Why aren’t we hitting these things head-on?’”
Bypassing the preliminary hearing
On the other hand, McCaffrey has no hesitation in using the grand jury to head off the preliminary hearing when a hearing would cause unnecessary grief and stress for a victim.
In a rape case preliminary hearing, for example, the victim may have to testify and be questioned in front of her perpetrator, ostensibly so that the perpetrator can be held in jail to go to grand jury.
“Why would I make this girl, who has been very recently traumatized by this defendant, see this guy in court and then have to answer questions from a defense attorney who is out to prove she is lying?” McCaffrey asks, noting, in the worse case trial scenario, the victim may end up having to repeat her story up to four different times.
(“As a defense attorney, I loved preliminary hearings,” McCaffrey qualified. “Yes, you knew the judge was going to hold your client, but it was a free shot, a fishing expedition to find information you might use in the defense.”)
Instead, I will call in the grand jury, tell the defendant his case is now before the grand jury if he wants to testify. I’ll hold an indictment — and then the local court doesn’t get to have that hearing. At that point they have lost jurisdiction.”
“I have protected the victim, made it so she didn’t have to go to court and see the defendant, and I have gotten her version of the crime on record only four or five days after it happened — a lot more credible than getting it four or five months down the road.”
McCaffrey added, “It’s my obligation, if I don’t believe that victim’s testimony, or think I can’t prosecute it, to not prosecute the case.”
“There is nothing worse than convicting an innocent person.”
McCaffrey has also used the swift grand jury indictment method against uncooperative defendants and defense counsels unwilling to waive their preliminary hearing.
“I’ll tell the defense counsel, if you don’t give me a little more time to make an offer to your client, you’ve backed me into a corner. If you don’t think I can indict this case, just wait and see.”
In the specific case McCaffrey was speaking of, the defendant was indicted on a gun charge, has now plead guilty, and is serving time in state prison.
“It can get me a little more time when I need it, but it’s not strong-arming the defense attorneys,” McCaffrey said.
Indeed, he claims: “There is a working relationship and trust I have built with the local defense attorneys. It has to do with their confidence that they know I won’t over-indict; that my word is good.”
“But what I do indict I will prove,” McCaffrey added. “By giving me more time, they know I’ll do the fair thing — give charges that are supported by the evidence — and that is ultimately in the best interest of their client.”
“I came here five months ago with the thought of implementing this system — and I have not done a preliminary hearing since I’ve been here.” McCaffrey reports.
“Not one member of any law enforcement agency has had to go to court for a preliminary hearing; not one defendant has been released from custody for failure to go forward with the hearing, and not one court reporter has had to go to court to record the proceedings of the hearing.”
“It’s a different way of doing things, more streamlined and more aggressive.”
Speaking of his election prospects, McCaffrey said, “I hope that the voters take a look across party lines.”
“That’s not because I’m endorsed by the minority. Rather, I’d like them to ask themselves what politics has to do with the office of district attorney.”
“If you are in any way the victim of a crime, your political affiliation is a non-issue under my watch — and it’s going to be a non-issue under Steve’s or Eric’s watch. It has to be.”