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Falls GOP chairman Sandonato may be hired for Niagara County public defender slot

Vincent M. Sandonato, the GOP chairman for Niagara Falls, may be appointed assistant Niagara County public defender – once he’s sworn in to practice law.

Sandonato has passed the bar exam but has yet to take the oath as an attorney, which he said is scheduled to occur Jan. 13 in Rochester.

Public Defender David J. Farrugia said last week that Sandonato’s candidacy for the $40,659-a-year, half-time position is “under consideration.”

Besides the salary, the position includes health insurance and other benefits. In all, the cost of the job is $54,222 a year.

The position, one of 24 on the county payroll, is becoming vacant at the end of the year because the current assistant public defender, Danielle M. Restaino, was elected in November as a Niagara Falls city judge.

For Sandonato, 30, it would mean he would be holding two government jobs. He was appointed human resources director for the Town of Wheatfield in July, another half-time position, which pays $800 a week, or $41,600 a year.

County Legislature Democrats took a dim view of the reported plan to hire Sandonato, a former legislator, and introduced a measure to abolish the position reportedly earmarked for him. However, the Legislature’s Republican majority defeated that budget amendment Dec. 8.

“The practices of this county with the political hiring are disgusting and disturbing,” said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls.

Sandonato said, “They want to eliminate a position to serve the poor? It’s OK for Danielle Restaino to represent indigent people, but it’s not a good idea for anybody else to serve the indigent? How is that good policy?”

Farrugia said he started looking for a new attorney “once we were certain Danielle was going to win in Niagara Falls.” The position is likely to be in Family Court. “I had another person in mind who does a lot of that type of work,” Farrugia said. “Vince made it known he was interested in a job, and he’s friends with some of the guys in the office, so I talked to him.”

The specific position for which Sandonato may be hired is funded by a state indigent legal services grant, which expires in 14 months, Farrugia said. “Hopefully it’ll be renewed,” he added.

Connie M. Lozinsky, one of the full-time public defenders, spends her time in Family Court. “She has been asking me for help for years,” Farrugia said. He said Sandonato “is going to start shadowing after the first (of January) if he’s the guy.”

Sandonato at first told The Buffalo News he hadn’t been interviewed for the position. “I won’t interview for anything in the legal field until I’m sworn in,” he said. But Farrugia said he talked to Sandonato twice on the phone. “When I interviewed him, I didn’t know he was Niagara Falls chairman,” Farrugia said.

Advised of Farrugia’s statement, Sandonato said, “I’ve talked to him about it, absolutely. But I’m not hired. I’m becoming a lawyer, I’m applying everywhere.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com