DA primary contested in Sullivan

Posted 6/21/23

MONTICELLO, NY — Not every race in Sullivan County gets contested. 

The races for county-wide positions like Sullivan County Sheriff or Sullivan County Treasurer have, in recent …

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DA primary contested in Sullivan


MONTICELLO, NY — Not every race in Sullivan County gets contested. 

The races for county-wide positions like Sullivan County Sheriff or Sullivan County Treasurer have, in recent cycles, only attracted their incumbents. 

The race for Sullivan County District Attorney happening in 2023 is an unusual one. The incumbent, Brian Conaty, has held the position only since January. Former district attorney Meagan Galligan appointed Conaty acting DA after her election to the third judicial district of the New York State Supreme Court. 

Conaty’s election season also features a challenger: Tom Cawley, currently the deputy county attorney in the office of the Sullivan County Attorney. 

The two will compete in the Republican primary for district attorney, to be held on Tuesday, June 27. That, in itself, is unusual, as Conaty has the Democratic nomination and will run on the Democratic line in November. 

“There seemed to be some sort of schism amongst the upper levels of the [Republican] party,” Cawley told the River Reporter. “Certain influential members and officers thought, ‘Well, let’s just have our cake and eat it too.”

The party unanimously endorsed Cawley as its candidate, while issuing an exemption (known as a Wilson Pakula exemption) allowing Conaty to run in the primaries. Cawley challenged the decision in court, without success. 

According to documents submitted for that court case, former chair of the Sullivan County Republican Committee Dick Coombe made the motion to give Conaty the exemption, and current chair of the Sullivan County Legislature Rob Doherty made the motion for Cawley’s candidacy. Those documents indicated that the ballot total for the Wilson Pakula decision was split with roughly 62 percent of the vote in favor of Conaty. 

“I think it’s a dangerous situation,” said Cawley. For unopposed, county-wide positions, often “there’s some sort of backroom deal made where parties agree, ‘Well, we won’t put up a guy against your person, and visa versa.’ Guess who gets left in the cold? The voters.”

Cawley hopes that voters will have a meaningful choice to make when they cast their votes in the November general elections. 

DA’s office disarray?

The two candidates each identify similar issues with the DA’s office. 

“The district attorney’s office is in a bit of a disarray,” said Cawley. “It’s not being managed properly.”

Cawley said the issues began in the era of former DA Jim Farrell, who served in the role before Galligan. According to Cawley, young attorneys in the office weren’t allowed to dispose of cases, and all plea bargains and dispositions had to run through the senior attorneys. When Cawley himself served in the DA’s office, he said, junior attorneys had more authority, and gained more experience.  

Conaty has himself identified the hierarchical nature of the DA’s office as an issue. His campaign website advertises the introduction of “vertical integration” to the office, “vesting more authority in ADAs to handle all cases in their respective jurisdictions from violations to misdemeanors to felonies.”

Cawley claimed that his age and experience sets him up better to make those changes to the office, as well as to attract more seasoned attorneys. 

“Just common sense would dictate that if you’re a 10- or 15-year criminal defense or prosecution [attorney], you would be much more likely to come and work for someone with 30 years of experience than with someone with four,” Cawley said. In addition, his time as the deputy county attorney has given him the administrative experience necessary to manage the office, he said. 


Conaty has received widespread support from the law enforcement community. 

When Galligan appointed Conaty acting DA, she said she was confident that he could “continue the strong partnerships with our sheriff, local police chiefs and state police that have resulted in the successes that we have achieved together over the past several years.” Conaty has since received endorsements from the associations for the Liberty Police Department, the Fallsburg Police Department, the New York State Troopers and the New York State Police investigators, along with the endorsements of Sullivan County Clerk Russell Reeves and Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, according to Conaty’s campaign website. 

Cawley has received the endorsement of the Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Association.

district attorney, contested, primary, election


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