MONTICELLO, NY — Whoever wins the 2023 election for Sullivan County District Attorney, it will mark their first time being elected to the role. The former elected District Attorney, Meagan …
MONTICELLO, NY — Whoever wins the 2023 election for Sullivan County District Attorney, it will mark their first time being elected to the role. The former elected District Attorney, Meagan Galligan, vacated her seat at the start of the year, having been elected to the third judicial district of the New York State Supreme Court.
But of the two candidates, one is running for the role from the office itself. Brian Conaty is the acting District Attorney of the county; his challenger, Tom Cawley, is coming from his position as the deputy county attorney.
“Really, just the body of work since I’ve been in this office is what I want [the voters] to consider,” Conaty tells the River Reporter.
The DA’s office has, in recent months, “drafted and executed more search warrants and at a faster pace than any other administration,” Conaty says. This effort has targeted known drug dealers, Conaty says, Prosecuting them and taking the drugs they planned to deal off the streets.
The office has participated as well in efforts to help the victims of the opioid crisis, both under Conaty and under prior administration. The office has worked with Hope Not Handcuffs, a non-profit that diverts people from jail time to treatment, and has expanded its participation in discretionary courts; in addition to drug court and similar courts, a judicial decree handed down is leading to the institution of opioid court, says Conaty.
Conaty has also worked to improve the internal structure and functioning of the DA’s office. Under his leadership, the office has moved away from a horizontal form of prosecution to a vertical form of prosecution, a change that empowers the office’s assistant DAs.
“Previously, the office, you can consider it bifurcated to an extent,” explains Conaty. “You had the misdemeanor ADAs and you had the felony ADAs… In my opinion, that caused a little bit of a backlog of cases,” with defense attorneys having to work with two different assistant DAs on the same case.
The new structure gives each attorney their own regional jurisdiction, and empowers them to handle any cases within that jurisdiction (apart from certain more serious crimes, which Conaty handles himself).
Former DA Jim Farrell set up the office with a bifurcated structure because it had an influx of brand new attorneys, who didn’t have the training yet to handle the more serious cases, says Conaty.
That’s no longer the situation, Conaty adds: the attorneys in the office now aren’t new, they just need prosecution experience.
Conaty’s own level of experience has become a talking point during the election season. Conaty joined the DA’s office in 2017 under DA Farrell, directly after law school; he had previously interned there, and after graduation he received an offer to join, Conaty says.
Conaty always wanted to be a prosecutor, he says; growing up, his father (also an attorney) would tell him that being a prosecutor was the best job in the legal profession, because “you just do what’s just; you do the right thing, and that’s it.”
Tom Cawley, Conaty’s opponent, has emphasized the difference in their levels of experience. Cawley began his career in 1993 with a seven-year stint at the District Attorney’s office, giving him thirty years of practicing legal experience.
“I’ve heard him claiming that here and there, and I just don’t simply believe it to be true… In order to run this office you need relevant experience, and frankly between my,opponent and I, he’s never led an office before, and I’m doing it right now,” says Conaty.
Conaty says that, in his time in the office, he has won the support of his staff and of law enforcement, and has experience with a number of changes to the laws of the land that have come through in the past few years, changes to bail reform law, discovery law and the raise-the-age legislation in particular.
Cawley tells the River Reporter his experience in the county attorney’s office is relevant to the work of a DA, and that he has experience administering the office of the county attorney.
“Trial work is trial work,” says Cawley. “I haven’t forgotten how to be a trial attorney. [Despite] the context of ‘criminal’ as opposed to ‘civil,’ litigators are litigators. You learn how to properly be prepared, how to address things in court in an open way. The rules of evidence haven’t changed in 30 years, so I think we’re good there.”
Conaty has received widespread support in his time as acting DA.
“I never in a hundred years would have imagined I’d have this much support and this much outreach,” Conaty says. “I’m humbled.”
When he decided to run for election, Conaty met with the leaders of all the county’s parties, he says. The Democratic and Conservative parties decided to endorse him outright; the Republican party wanted to give him the opportunity—”Tom is the registered Republican, but they… like my experience, they like my values”---and granted him an exemption to run in the Republican primary on June 27.
“They are just letting the democratic process play itself out to see who the Republican people would want to be on their line,” says Conaty.
Cawley claims the process anything but democratic: “The Republican party should stand together with their candidates, and I hope that happens… we get five or six guys in the background making a deal for 80,000 people, and that isn’t right. Let the citizens vote; let them decide.” [Click here for more information.]
Conaty is a registered Democrat, and was formerly a registered Conservative. Cawley is a registered Republican, but switched to that party affiliation after an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic endorsement earlier in the year, according to reporting from the Sullivan County Democrat.
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