The offbeat side of the news - The Buffalo News
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The offbeat side of the news

Singing judge holds court

Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk played two roles Thursday during a panel discussion of trial techniques for students from 36 law schools across the country in town for a mock trial competition sponsored by the University at Buffalo Law School.

After moderating the three-hour discussion of topics such as opening statements, direct examination and cross-examination, the moderator turned performer, singing a parody he wrote of “The Music of the Night” from the popular musical “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“With apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber,” he said, before inviting his pianist, attorney Jack Freedenberg, to the front of the room in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center and donning the Phantom mask and hat.

“I’m the best at cross-examination,” he sang. “Leading questions stifle explanation. If the witness strays from his prior deposition, I’ll take his words and show him who’s the boss. Bear witness to the beauty of my cross.”

Franczyk is no stranger to performing. He plays guitar and sings with “The Fascinators,” along with Freedenberg and Tim Switalski, a corporate coach. The group was formed earlier this year and has performed at the PAUSA art house in Allentown.

Long arm of the law

As if his commanding win for a third term as Erie County sheriff wasn’t enough, with 52 percent of the vote in a three-way race, Tim Howard learned he has supporters down in neighboring Cattaraugus County.

Wednesday, fresh from his victory, Howard received a phone call from his longtime friend and counterpart, Cattaraugus County Sheriff Tim Whitcomb, alerting him that six Cattaraugus County voters listed Howard as a write-in candidate for sheriff.

“Sheriff Whitcomb told me that he thoroughly kicked my butt in Cattaraugus County, although he did concede that I received six write-in votes,” Howard said.

It was a happy time for both sheriffs, since Whitcomb was re-elected, running unopposed.

Playing for the other side

Re-entry to civilian life after a stay in prison is often difficult, and there are organizations dedicated to helping former inmates get jobs and housing.

Todd Chaney, an inmate at Wyoming Correctional Facility, is hoping to bypass all that.

He’s sending out resumés in advance of “upcoming Parole Board appearance” and his release from prison in early March, with the hope that he can start work “within a week or two.”

His desired employer? The Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Chaney explains in a cover letter that he has earned a paralegal degree.

“Although my experience has been limited to assisting convicted felons with challenging their convictions, I believe that this is not the best use of my talents,” he wrote.

He would like to help confine criminals, he said, and to “defend against their criminal appeals.”

What Chaney doesn’t mention is that his paralegal skills haven’t been so successful in fighting his own conviction or getting himself out of jail.

Missing from his resumé: He has been in prison for the last 25 years and was eligible for parole in 2004.

He also doesn’t mention what put him there: a conviction of second-degree murder.

Drugs in the school?

Community meetings can sometimes be sleepy affairs, attracting only the most dedicated neighbors.

But an upcoming session with the city Police Department’s A District, which covers South Buffalo, promises to be “very informative and enlightening!”

The draw?

“Parents can learn what certain drugs look like,” according to an emailed announcement.

Better to do that at an elementary school cafeteria in front of a police chief than in your teenager’s bedroom.

Written by Jill Terreri, with contributions from James Staas and Lou Michel. email:

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