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Exodus of Attorneys from DA's Office

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Erie County Control Board holds its first meeting Monday. And some might say not a moment too soon. Instability in the county finances is driving away some of the county's top employees, including attorneys from the District Attorney's office.

Earlier this year, District Attorney Frank Clark was red faced and angry as he fought lawmakers to save jobs in his department. He went to court and won some of them back. But now, assistant DAs who were spared are leaving on their own. Though he declined to speak on tape, Clark confirmed that ten of his lawyers have left recently. He says they took jobs elsewhere that offered either better pay, job security or both.

Clark says he's down to 75 lawyers from nearly 100 lawyers who used to handle cases. Amherst Chief John Moslow says it will eventually be a problem.

"The court calendars continue to grow with the number of arrests that all the various law enforcement agencies are making throughout the county, "said Moslow. "And the staff of the District Attorney is being reduced. It can only mean that there is a limited number of attorneys who can try cases, and it will force his (Clark's) hand to possibly plead some cases that they would rather prosecute."

And there may be no relief soon. A new law was passed by the legislature that automatically deletes all vacated positions. They can only be re-filled with legislative approval. In July, Clark requested three positions be re-filled. He also asked for future exemption from the law. Lawmakers rebuffed the exemption request. And they only authorized rehiring one assistant DA, who was grant funded. Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says she didn't know there was a problem.

"When we had met in our last session we had approved most of that which was requested," said Marinelli. "So, I'm not aware of any recent requests."

According to the Legislature clerk, no new requests have come over from the DA. However, the County Legislature recessed after that last July session. None of the special sessions planned for August have been scheduled yet either.

DA Clark says he's hoping to come to an agreement with lawmakers that will address the shortage in his department.