Is Frank A. Sedita III really the best choice that Democratic Party bosses can come up with for State Supreme Court justice? Erie County’s district attorney has a record that is spotty and he is rated as barely acceptable by the local bar association. What’s the agenda here?
The same goes for the Republican bosses’ choice of divorce attorney Emilio Colaiacovo. Both men are rated only as “qualified” by the Erie County Bar Association. Yet, in a hoary tradition that leaves judges accountable only to party chiefs, the candidates are expected to be cross-endorsed by the parties and served up to voters.
The bar association has three favorable ratings, of which “qualified” is the lowest. What do the two major party bosses have against candidates who are “well qualified” or, dare one hope, “outstanding?” Is it too much to ask?
Sedita is the real puzzler. Is he grandfathered in because of his lineage? His father was a State Supreme Court justice; his grandfather, the mayor of Buffalo. Or do the party bosses just not want him heading the DA’s office anymore? They wouldn’t be alone.
Sedita has had some successes as the county’s chief prosecutor, but his failures have been dramatic, not so much in the won-lost column, but in the people he has refused to prosecute.
They include Ronald “Todd” Epps, whom Sedita refused to prosecute for the killing of Stacy Moss in 2009. To obtain justice, Orchard Park Police took their case to federal prosecutors who won a conviction last month on insurance fraud, arson, drug dealing and firearms violations – based on the premise that Epps killed Moss.
Sedita also refused to prosecute the cold case homicide of Patricia Rodriguez, even though Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr. reported obtaining new evidence. Rodriguez, a 21-year-old mother of two, was stabbed more than 100 times in 1979 in Lackawanna’s Holy Cross Cemetery.
So, last year, prosecutors in the office of State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman took over the case and won a murder conviction against Rodriguez’s husband, Michael Rodriguez.
And Sedita still refuses to prosecute Gabriele P. Ballowe in the hit-and-run death of Barry T. Moss. Police in Evans want to charge Ballowe in the 2013 fatality, but Sedita says the evidence is insufficient. Ballowe and her insurers recently reached a confidential settlement in a civil lawsuit filed against her by Moss’ survivors. The burden of proof is less stringent in civil cases.
And, finally, Sedita has been criticized for shying away from election law violations. He fired an assistant district attorney, Mark A. Sacha, for publicly criticizing him for failing to investigate political operative G. Steven Pigeon on alleged election law violations. Pigeon and others are currently under investigation by state and federal authorities.
Yet for all this, Sedita is the judicial candidate whom Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy praises for his “distinguished career as district attorney” – even as members of the bar association rate him only as “qualified.”
Promotions are usually based on merit and ability. It’s a fair argument that Sedita hasn’t met either of those tests, at least not yet. Still, because the party bosses want it, he is evidently about to be promoted into a judgeship that carries a 14-year term and a salary of $174,000.
But take heart. It could be worse. One of Sedita’s assistant prosecutors, James F. Bargnesi, was rated as “not recommended” by the bar association and is nonetheless about to win a seat on Erie County Court. At least he won it fair and square: Two positions were open and only he and incumbent Judge Sheila A. DiTullio filed for election.
DiTullio, it turns out, was rated as “outstanding” by the bar association. By Erie County political standards, she’s overqualified.