Legislature grants residency waiver for district attorney's office

May 15—A measure waiving the residency requirement for assistant district attorneys was approved by the Niagara County Legislature Tuesday.

The vote was unanimous, but legislator Christopher Robins (D) asked that if a Niagara County resident was passed over for an out-of-county applicant, then the legislature should be notified.

No one spoke at a public hearing on the local law before Tuesday's meeting. The law reads in part that, "It is the strong desire of the Niagara County community to install Niagara County residents in the position of Assistant District Attorney of Niagara County. It is a strong belief of Niagara County that Niagara County residents are knowledgeable about and concerned with the affairs of Niagara County."

Despite this, Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman had stated in April that his office had been understaffed for the past three years and many qualified applicants were coming from Erie County, whom he has had to turn away.

As of late March, Seaman said, his office had six vacancies, equivalent to 25% of the attorneys on staff.

"I want to attract candidates," he said in April when the public hearing was scheduled. Seaman was not present as legislators voted on adopting the exception.

Robins spoke up as the local law was read to the legislature, asserting that local attorneys would not be treated fairly.

"We had a Niagara County resident that applied for these jobs and I guess we don't like that person," he said. "Are we going to be informed of that? Does this mean that anybody who is a Niagara County resident who applies for these jobs isn't going to get it?"

County Manager Rick Updegrove said Seaman could be asked, informally, of any county residents that were passed over and that while he believed a local resident would be more "committed" to the community, he trusted Seaman to make the right choice.

"We can absolutely ask the district attorney," he said.

Robins argued that a reason for a county resident's rejection should be known, but Wydysh said she believed that Seaman would be, "very open" to speaking to Robins about who he hires

"I understand where you're coming from and I think he'd be very open with you if you wanted to have a conversation with him," she said.

The local law was adopted with 14 affirming votes.