District attorney candidates answer questions
PENN YAN--Incumbent Valerie Gardner (Republican) and Todd Casella (Independence and Reform) are both vying for the position of Yates County District Attorney.
With election day less than a month away, the candidates received questions from Yates County residents Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE) forum in Penn Yan.
John Prendergast, chairman of Yates County's SCOPE was the coordinator for the meeting at the Elks Lodge.
While the audience considered their questions, Prendergast asked both candidates an opening question. "How do you think we as a society can preserve our way of life and, at the same time, keeping our constitutional right of the preservation of the second amendment?"
Gardner said, "The tragedy in Nevada harkens us back to Sandy Hook. The problem is that this is all political show business. There have been horrible incidents, and the expected and appropriate outcry that things like this should never happen. But they do and always have. No political body can legislate insane people into a state of sanity. Acts of terrorism, acts of violence happen on all types of levels. Sources of violence are not caused by the implements of violence, they are caused by psychological and social issues. Those are not going to be fixed by taking away freedom."
Casella responded, "I agree with Valerie, we can't legislate out of fear. People are afraid and they are looking for some way to feel safe. The solution to that can't be giving away our rights. The biggest step that we need to take is to educate people. What we need is to increase help for people who are suffering from mental health illnesses. We can't just ignore the mental health issue that is happening in this country and expect these types of tragedies not to continue to happen. At some point we need to step up as a society, recognize a problem, recognize the deficiency in our system in dealing with that problem--and fix it."
One of the residents asked the candidates, "What is the source of your statistics for your campaign?"
Gardner replied, "I have my files. Until I was campaigning, I had no idea that our crime rate has gone down the way it has during the three years that I've been in. We have a 99 percent felony conviction rate. I think that this has been pretty effective over the last three years and I would like to continue that."
Casella said, "I haven't given any statistics, I don't really think they're relevant as far as the quality of the job I do. My conviction rate is at 96 percent. What I've seen here [in Yates County] is six felonies dismissed this year: four drug felonies, one sex abuse felony and a vehicular assault DWI were dismissed. Six felonies in a county that doesn't have a whole lot of felonies is a lot. Your drug felonies have almost tripled since she has been in office. That's a problem. If you are pro-active as a prosecutor and you're on the ball--that stuff doesn't happen. I've been a prosecutor for almost five years and I've handled over 4,000 criminal cases and I haven't had a single one dismissed because I didn't prosecute it on time. This county doesn't do near that level and yet cases are being dismissed for just that reason. That's not acceptable and that's not going to happen if I'm elected."
"I'm going to respond to that," Gardner said. "I find that to be a personal attack on me and it's not correct information. In Yates County, from first appearance to sentencing, our average is 320 days. That's incredible. That's something to be proud of. In Steuben County, where Mr. Casella works, 1,751 days--that's 4.8 years. For the number of cases in Yates County exceeding time limits, zero exceeded the standards and goals of the court. In Steuben County--33. In Yates County, felony dismissals as of May, 2017--just two. In Steuben County--91. In Yates County, our felony conviction rate is 99 percent. In Steuben County, one out of every 10 felonies that is filed in county court walks out without a felony conviction. I don't know where Mr. Casella is getting his information, but there has never been a felony sex case dismissed and there has never been one case that languished because of inattention to ever be dismissed by my office. The public record is the public record. I'm not going to tell you anything that is not true. I never have and I never will."
In her final statements, Gardner said, "It means a lot to me to see the people in our community care enough to come out. Know that I have done my very best for you and I will continue to do my very best. I didn't agree to do this job because this is something I wanted for myself. I agreed to do this job and would like to continue doing this job because you're my community ...so that we all can rest a little easier at night. I would love to have the opportunity to do this for you."
Casella closed by saying, "This is such an important job. The work that a district attorney's office does really does touch a tremendous amount of people's lives. That's a tremendous amount of responsibility and cannot be taken lightly. This is the work I love and the work I'm passionate about doing. My passion and my energy shows in the quality of the work I do."
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.