When a person hears the term district attorney, they immediately think of an attorney who prosecutes a major, high-profile case. Popular fictional crime shows, like Law and Order, portray the district attorney as such.
In real life, district attorneys don’t spend their entire day in court. Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson is living proof. In fact, Swanson said a lot of his work is behind the scenes during a recent interview with the Jamestown Gazette.
“I’ve made an effort to branch this office out,” Swanson said. Swanson explained how he fields calls from various citizens. In addition, Swanson said he deals with the various agency issues that involve his office.
Swanson, who was appointed as Acting District Attorney in 2016 before being elected as the District Attorney later that year, said he’s spent a lot of time coordinating with local law enforcement agencies as they adjust in the wake of the new bail and criminal justice reform that became law Jan. 1.
The county’s top prosecutor detailed how his office is involved with various initiatives, such as a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat opioid overdose deaths.
Swanson’s role, however, goes far beyond the initiatives that his office participates in. Swanson also works to ensure a smooth operation within the confines of his office.
“You wear a lot of hats,” Swanson stated. “A lot of offices have people that do (the behind the scenes work). What you find here is you’re the lobbyist, you’re the liaison with law enforcement, you’re the HR person, you develop all of the policy and plea guidelines, updating your office manual every year, you do the hiring. You do the scheduling. I schedule all of the attorneys to manage the huge number of courts that we have (countywide).”
“It’s a whole lot different than what I envisioned it being when I took over. It’s less time in the courtroom than I ever thought it’d be, but it’s less time in the courtroom because there’s a lot to do outside of it.”
Swanson said many district attorneys throughout New York State serve more as “administrators’ ‘ and less as prosecutors, which allows them to regularly attend community events. Swanson, however, said that because of his staffing numbers, as well as his duties in handling homicide cases, he can’t attend as many events.
“In an ideal world, I’d have a veteran prosecutor that’s able to essentially assist me with these major cases every step of the way. That would be their job,” Swanson said. Swanson said, however, that he’s been able to designate a prosecutor specalizing in sex crimes, and another in narcotics cases.
“If you right size your staff, you’re able to specialize, which in today’s world is a necessity,” Swanson said. “The unfortunate problem is everybody kind of wears a lot of hats because we just don’t have the resources we need. We are able to do that where we can.”
Swanson, in addition, said that he hopes that he can show the Chautauqua County Legislature that his office needs additional funding to meet the public safety needs.
“I really feel good about where we are headed,” Swanson said. “We’ve developed a great staff, but at some point, with the resources you have, you hit your ceiling, and you don’t get through that ceiling.”
“We are so understaffed with the number of people that we have. It prevents us from doing many of the things that a county with 1,000 felonies a year needs to be able to do.”
Swanson said he’ll continue to advocate on behalf of his office, which is just one more “hat” that he wears as Chautauqua County’s District Attorney.