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Barred as prosecutor, attorney is made judge in Lackawanna

In January, Norman A. LeBlanc Jr. was considered unfit to be a prosecutor in Lackawanna City Court, but two months later, he was appointed to preside over that same court as an associate judge.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III had revoked LeBlanc’s authority to serve as a public prosecutor. But in March, Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski turned to LeBlanc, his father-in-law and the then-Lackawanna city attorney, to replace the previous judge, Louis P. Violanti, who resigned after orchestrating a sham ticket-fixing court proceeding.

Szymanski knew Sedita had revoked LeBlanc’s prosecutorial authority – but was not told why – when he appointed LeBlanc as an associate judge.

LeBlanc was found guilty of professional misconduct in 1998 by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. He admitted giving a fictitious court order to two clients and improperly altering a date on a notarized summons with signatures from the clients. He did not face a criminal charge but was suspended from practicing law for six months.

Since his reinstatement, he has been a lawyer in good standing.

LeBlanc “did not meet the standards I would expect of a prosecutor,” Sedita told The Buffalo News, explaining why he blocked him from prosecuting cases. “In my view, to have my imprimatur as town prosecutor, you have to be more than a licensed attorney.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with Mr. LeBlanc practicing law,” Sedita added. “I wish him all the luck in the world. I do believe in forgiveness. We’re talking about the designation of a prosecutor. I did not feel comfortable signing my name letting him have prosecutorial powers in my stead.”

LeBlanc declined to comment for this article.

City and town attorneys routinely appear in municipal courts on behalf of the district attorney. City- and town-appointed prosecutors handle violation-level offenses, most of which are vehicle and traffic offenses, in the local courts. After a city or town government names someone to become a prosecutor, the district attorney must give approval before the appointee gains prosecutorial authority.

Before LeBlanc, Sedita only twice before had prevented a town or city attorney from handling cases for his office in local courts. It the previous cases, Sedita said, he did so because the two held full-time jobs as public defenders – not because of any ethical concerns.

Szymanski received a letter dated Jan. 10 stating that LeBlanc “may not appear on my behalf or on behalf of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office in any capacity.”

The mayor said he called Sedita’s office for an explanation but did not get an answer.

“He just said he’s not allowed to participate. It was just a single letter,” Szymanski said.

Szymanski appointed LeBlanc as city attorney upon taking office as mayor in 2012. Sedita originally approved of LeBlanc and then-Assistant City Attorney Antonio M. Savaglio prosecuting cases in City Court.

A year into LeBlanc’s appointment, Sedita sent the letter. Sedita said he was not aware of LeBlanc’s 1998 suspension when he initially approved him.

The mayor called the timing of the revocation “awfully unusual.”

Sedita’s letter was sent four days after Dana J. Britton, Lackawanna’s public safety director, criticized Sedita in a News article for pushing plea deals instead of taking defendants to trial.

“Is it retaliation? I don’t know that answer. He never gave me one,” Szymanski said.

“I don’t engage in retaliation,” Sedita said.

Sedita’s revocation had no impact on whether LeBlanc could be appointed or serve as associate judge. The judicial appointment required only that LeBlanc be a lawyer in good standing and a Lackawanna resident.

The mayor said he spoke with Chief City Judge Frederic J. Marrano before naming LeBlanc to the part-time position, which pays $63,700 per year.

“He said I can’t think of a finer lawyer,” Szymanski said. “He was very supportive.”

Szymanski also said he has no regrets about appointing LeBlanc.

“He’s been practicing law for 40 years,” Szymanski said. “He’s got a very good handle of law, and he’s doing a great job as judge.”

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