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Niagara public defender promises more interviews for job opening

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Public Defender David J. Farrugia has promised that he will interview more people for a position for which a prominent Republican was favored, although a resolution to freeze hiring by his office was defeated on a party-line vote of the County Legislature last week.

The Buffalo News previously reported that Niagara Falls GOP Chairman Vincent M. Sandonato is expected to be hired for a $40,659-a-year part-time assistant public defender spot once he is sworn in as an attorney Wednesday. A resolution by the Legislature’s Democratic minority said the county ought to be “hiring the most qualified and experienced legal staff to represent the people of Niagara County.”

“I got a lot of calls from attorneys that there had been no advertising of (the position),” said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls.

Farrugia said this is the typical hiring procedure used in the public defender’s office for the past 35 years. He said, “I have a person in mind that I think is highly qualified. I can’t believe the two attorneys whose resumes I just received didn’t know about it.” Questioned by Zona, he promised to interview those two.

The position is that vacated by Danielle M. Restaino when she was elected Niagara Falls city judge in November.

“This is the first I heard that we don’t advertise for public defenders, and I’ve been here 26 years,” Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso said.

“We need to be hiring the best and the brightest, especially for these legal positions,” Zona said.

Also at last week’s Legislature session, Chairman W. Keith McNall announced the chairmen of Legislature committees this year will be: Richard L. Andres, R-North Tonawanda, Community Services and Greenway committees; Anthony J. Nemi, I-Lockport, Administration; David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, Community Safety and Security; Kathryn L. Lance, R-Wheatfield, Economic Development; John Syracuse, R-Newfane, Infrastructure and Facilities; and Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, Refuse Disposal District board.

The Legislature also adopted a schedule of 14 meetings this year, believed to be the fewest ever. Until a few years ago, the Legislature met twice a month year-round. A summer recess was instituted, and in the past few years the number of meetings at other times of the year has been gradually reduced.