WANAKENA St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole M. Duve and her Republican challenger, Mary E. Rain, went head-to-head Thursday at the Ranger School.
The event, sponsored by the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp., was billed as a meet the candidates night for a number of elected offices, but it came close to a debate between Ms. Duve and Ms. Rain because they often were asked by audience members to respond to the same questions. While they could not confront each other, they each had an opportunity in their closing statements to rebut earlier comments made by their opponent.
Members of the overflow crowd in the Ranger Schools main classroom asked how each would handle the district attorneys office given the countys fiscal problems, how they would deal with the revolving door of staff in the office, what strengths they would bring to the job, how they would better help communities with crime problems and how involved the district attorneys office should be with prosecuting welfare fraud, among other questions.
Ms. Duve also faced criticism as she was talking about why some cases have not resulted in an arrest, such as with Garrett J. Phillips, the 12-year-old Potsdam boy who was murdered in 2011 and whose killer remains uncharged.
Different crimes take different paths, Ms. Duve said. From time to time, it takes longer. I can promise you, nobody is asleep on that case.
Ms. Duve made an ironic remark about happening to know a little about the case, only to be grilled by William C. Baerthlein, who interpreted her remarks literally that she did not have a lot of knowledge about the investigation.
Shouldnt you know a lot about it? he asked.
When Ms. Duve answered that she was making light, but actually knew a lot about the case, Dr. Baerthlein said, Should you be making light of a case thats a murder?
Family members of Garrett Phillips have appeared in support of Ms. Rains campaign.
Ms. Rain said Ms. Duve has not led in creating interagency cooperation, resulting in the need for federal intervention in some cases, including drug arrests in Massena. But Ms. Duve said federal help was needed because the criminal activity was crossing border lines.
Theyre going to get stiffer penalties at the federal level, she said.
Asked by county Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, how they would lessen the effect of budget constraints on the office, Ms. Duve said she has helped to bring in more than $1 million in grants that has been used to hire staff and pay for equipment.
Ms. Rain pushed her plan to fast-track felonies so the guilty go to state prison sooner freeing up the county jail creating a digital pipeline of information so that paperwork is not lost, and joining the Drug Task Force to benefit from the forfeiture of money and property used in a crime.
When cases are prosecuted efficiently, it saves everyone money, she said.
Keeping a stable staff is a problem because of low county salaries that persuade many lawyers to look elsewhere for work, Ms. Duve said. She said she tries to find lawyers from the area and looks for those who really want to be prosecutors. But Ms. Rain said the salaries have not kept the public defender, conflict defender and county attorney from having long-term employees.
She has a complete turnover of her staff every two years, Ms. Rain said of Ms. Duve. Its got to be a systemic problem in her office. I will get in there and see what the problem is.
The district attorneys office should be more aggressive in prosecuting welfare fraud, Ms. Rain said in response to a question from county Republican Chairman Thomas L. Jenison. Civil judgments are insufficient, she said.
It doesnt really hinder their activity, she said.
The district attorneys office has to know which battles to pick, Ms. Duve said, especially if the cases involve minimal amounts of money.
You cant take every single case, she said. You have to work within the confines of the office.
Ms. Duve said her experience in numerous trials and her former job as a Potsdam town judge are among her top qualifications. As a mother, she said, she also has the ability to put children and fearful adults at ease at the prospect of facing a courtroom.
Ms. Rain cited her experience as a deputy coroner, former police officer who also prosecuted some of her own cases, and public defender as key among her qualifications.
You really need to understand what the police can do. I have the knowledge of both, she said. You have to get out of your district attorney office and talk to these agencies. Not every thing is in a police report.