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Both candidates for Cattaraugus County district attorney claimed a 95 percent criminal conviction rate in a televised debate Tuesday night in the Jamestown Community College Training and Conference Facility.

Michael E. Nevins, the incumbent, who began his career as a Salamanca City Court judge and for 20 years ran a private law practice, has been endorsed by the Republican and Freedom parties.

He faced off against Edward Sharkey, a former Erie County assistant district attorney for seven years. His Cattaraugus County experience has been in the area of civil law and personal injury cases for about 10 years.

Sharkey is the chosen candidate of the Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties. He was recently honored as a New York State Bar fellow and is a former Air Force jet instructor-pilot.

Sharkey admitted the last time he was in the criminal courtroom arena was as an Erie County prosecutor in 1984. However, he insisted that he has emerged the victor in more trials than Nevins has during two terms in office.

Nevins was first elected to a four-year term in 1977 and was returned to office by voters in 1993. He said he is concentrating on the kinds of cases that "are hard to get convictions on."

He pointed to drunken-driving, burglaries and sex crimes -- mostly against children -- as the focus of his office. He also said he was not prepared with numbers to answer a spectator's question about the total number of felony convictions he has won.

"With all due respect, my opponent can't win high-profile cases," said Sharkey, naming five felony trials he claimed were not handled properly by Nevins' office.

Thirty-two felony drug-possession defendants, arrested after nine months' work by drug enforcers, received misdemeanor plea-bargains," Sharkey added.

But Nevins portrayed himself as a grass-roots campaign-finance reformer for not soliciting funds from anyone but his party and one relative. He criticized Sharkey for accepting the donations of lawyers.

Sharkey responded that even judges solicit campaign funds from lawyers, and noted Nevins had engaged in the practice in his last campaign.

"When did he get religion? How is it that he is now criticizing me for the same thing he did?" Sharkey said.

Later in the evening, sheriff hopefuls Gregory Shemeld and David Raiport debated Sheriff Ernest Dustman.

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