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Wojtaszek first to throw hat into ring for Niagara DA

LOCKPORT – Caroline A. Wojtaszek, a former assistant district attorney who currently works as a law clerk to Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon, announced her candidacy for district attorney Tuesday.

She is the first candidate to declare for the office since Monday’s resignation of District Attorney Michael J. Violante as a result of an office sexual harassment case. On Monday, she said becoming DA is “a lifelong dream.”

Wojtaszek, a registered Democrat, is married to former county Republican chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek, who is still a major player in that party’s doings, presenting several political possibilities.

Wojtaszek, in expressing interest in the post in an interview with The Buffalo News on Monday, acknowledged that she has no relationship with the regular county Democratic organization. The chairman of the group, Nicholas J. Forster, said Monday that he hopes to submit a Democrat’s name to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for a possible appointment as interim DA. The party committee is meeting Thursday, but Forster said, “I don’t know if this process is going to happen that quick.”

There seemed little if any chance of the Democrats endorsing Wojtaszek. “It’s pretty clear her husband is the de facto Republican chairman. That would enter into it,” Forster said.

But as a Democrat, Wojtaszek couldn’t be prevented from entering a Democratic primary against the party’s endorsed choice if she was able to gather enough nominating petition signatures. Also, she stands a chance of obtaining the GOP endorsement, given her family ties to the party.

Scott P. Kiedrowski, GOP county chairman, said he hasn’t spoken to a single potential candidate. “Generally folks send me a letter of intent looking for an interview,” Kiedrowski said. He said he has received no such letters.

“Once some more time passes, I’m sure a lot of people will be reaching out for interviews,” Kiedrowski said.

Ronald J. Winter, another well-connected Republican, also has expressed interest in the making the race. He is the brother of Richard Winter, a longtime political associate of former State Sen. George D. Maziarz.

Ronald Winter was second assistant district attorney to former Democratic DA Matthew J. Murphy III in the 1990s and early 2000s before becoming law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.

Also, Brian D. Seaman, another former Niagara County prosecutor now in a private law practice, has expressed interest. He also has key GOP connections, being the nephew of former Assemblyman and Family Court Judge David E. Seaman and the son of Daniel E. Seaman, a prominent municipal attorney in Niagara County for many years.

Forster said he has asked several Democratic attorneys to submit names of possible nominees to him. “The person who becomes the Democratic candidate has to be vetted by the governor’s office,” he said.

Forster ruled out former County Legislator Jason J. Cafarella, a part-time attorney who also is a captain in the Niagara Falls Fire Department; he said Cafarella told him he wants to stay with the fire department. Also, former Niagara Falls City Judge Robert M. Restaino, a prominent Democratic attorney, told The Buffalo News Tuesday, “I’m not actively campaigning for it. If the party asked me, I’d listen.”

Wojtaszek, originally hired by Murphy, worked in the District Attorney’s Office from 1998 to 2010, first for Murphy and later for Violante, but left six years ago to join Sheldon’s staff.

As a prosecutor, her best known case probably was the 2002 murder of Jennifer M. Bolender, a Niagara Falls 16-year-old who was stabbed to death by three young men on an overpass above the LaSalle Expressway. Two of the suspects were juvenile offenders and pleaded guilty, testifying against the third defendant, Daniel W. Pardee, who was convicted. In that case, Wojtaszek became the first woman to deliver a jury summation in a murder trial in Niagara County.

Wojtaszek also successfully prosecuted Joseph S. Holka, who raped a teenage girl and slit her brother’s throat in Wheatfield in 2006, as well as Jason A. Lorich, a North Tonawanda elementary school teacher who molested several girls in his classes in 1999 and 2000. They both pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile, a meeting of county officials Tuesday did not settle the question of the naming of an acting district attorney to replace Violante until or unless Cuomo makes an appointment.

Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes said County Attorney Claude A. Joerg “is still looking at the regulations and laws regarding the whole appointment process.” Lopes said it may take a few days for the situation to be resolved.

In the meantime, “The right people are doing what needs to be done day to day. They know the routines,” Lopes said.

The meeting included Lopes, Joerg, and the three deputy district attorneys Violante left behind: Theodore A. Brenner, Holly E. Sloma and Doreen M. Hoffmann. In his oath of office in 2008, Violante listed them in that order as authorized to act in his absence, but it’s uncertain if that automatically makes Brenner his acting successor.