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DA TARGETS POLITICAL PETITIONS ON COUNTY PROPERTY

Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III is urging that the county's Code of Ethics be amended to specifically bar circulation of political nominating petitions on county property or during work hours.

The proposal, contained in a letter sent to county legislators last week, was encouraged by Murphy in 1998, when he declined to prosecute then-Human Resources Director Albert T. Joseph for having Republican nominating petitions available in his office.

The Legislature did not act at that time. The matter cropped up again this year when Democratic county judge candidate Andrew A. Ligammari complained that an employee in the district attorney's office was circulating petitions for his opponent, Republican Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza.

Ligammari sought criminal prosecution. Murphy turned him down because of a conflict of interest, and state agencies have also declined to take the case.

The county Board of Ethics reviewed the complaint Sept. 13, according to a letter Murphy received from Town of Niagara Justice John P. Teixeira, the board's chairman. The letter said the board decided that there was no violation of the code because the signatures were obtained during the worker's lunch break and because there is nothing in the Code of Ethics that prohibits such activity.

"It is the opinion of our committee that this is not a good practice, and the committee strongly suggests that the Legislature review this issue and propose an amendment to the Niagara County Code of Ethics to prohibit the circulation of political petitions at any time on county property," Teixeira wrote.

Murphy agreed, writing to Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster that he was "disappointed" in the Board of Ethics' ruling because the Legislature had the opportunity to act and did not. He suggested text for an amendment to the code and wrote, "I strongly recommend that the Niagara County Legislature amend the Code of Ethics so that this type of questionable activity is clearly and unequivocally forbidden under Niagara County law."

Burmaster could not be reached to comment.

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