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Supervisors will have to take action over vacancies created by election in Seneca County DA’s office

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Elections have consequences.

Those consequences aren’t always political, though. Seneca County Court Judge-elect Barry Porsch, who is serving out another month as Seneca County District Attorney before he takes office on January 1st, 2019 joined the Seneca County Board of Supervisors at their monthly committee sessions to discuss future planning and options for their first year without him leading prosecutorial efforts.

Two issues were brought to the supervisors for consideration on how best to tackle them. In Porsch’s estimation — a simple conversation to get the ball rolling was the intent.

However, that dialogue got tense at points — as the cost and urgency of the situation became clear. Porsch will take office on January 1st, and was only verified as ‘winner’ of the Seneca County Court Judge contest a couple weeks ago. In addition, an intense case load, with several high-profile proceedings scheduled over the next several months.

The issues center around staffing in two specific areas.

First, Porsch noted the staffing challenge that will be created when he takes office. There will be a vacancy in the office created by his departure, and short of hiring an additional prosecutor — or two — the office will be put in a bad spot. “There will be the prosecutorial responsibilities I handle, as well as the appellate work handled by myself as a commitment to taxpayers,” the outgoing District Attorney explained. “I basically handle all of the appellate work on overtime and the weekends — after handling prosecutorial work during the week.”

It’s an unusual set of circumstances, he continued. Pointing out that many counties contract out that appellate work. “Appeals are really specialized, and it takes a specific skillset to handle them. I have that experience, but it will be missing when I leave office.”

The workload won’t go away, either. “We’re processing more appeals than ever before,” he continued during a lively discussion with supervisors.

The staff is already being pushed to the limit by the staffing conflict created by the ‘Centralized Arraignment’ system. At this time, they are conducted at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day of the week. That too is an unusual circumstance, given that some other counties only conduct arraignment on a daily basis, or do so during normal business hours, according to Porsch.

“My guys aren’t getting paid; and it’s not fair,” he explained about the arraignment situation. The defense attorneys and prosecutors from the district attorney’s office are required to call in to the judges — who take shifts throughout the week — an hour, or so, before the arraignment times.

“We can’t do this forever,” Porsch added, noting that a better solution had to be reached — especially with the stressed staffing situation created by his departure.

While the supervisors didn’t take any action — they were interested by the prospect of hiring two more assistant district attorneys to fill out the expected workload.

Supervisor Greg Lazzaro (R-Seneca Falls) pushed back against the initial discussion — and asked why Porsch hadn’t looked at other options. “Have you reached out to other counties who use the ‘Centralized’ system?” he asked. “Have you thought ‘outside the box’ on solutions, before you came to us tonight?”

Porsch took issue with the suggestion that legwork hadn’t been done leading up to the request — but noted that he only hoped the supervisors could come to a resolution on the matter. “Working together I know we can come up with a solution to put the office in a good place moving forward,” he added. “If [the Board] hires two assistant district attorney’s they will actually save money because you won’t have to pay me.”

Hiring two assistants when he vacates office in January will still cost around $50,000 less than having Porsch in office now, according to the analysis run by the Judge-elect.

The board took no action, but is anticipated more discussion and a possible resolution in December.

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