By W.T. ECKERT
CANTON — St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain is standing her ground after her authority to investigate county officials was questioned.
She has opened an investigation of the county for allegedly missing a deadline to renew a grant to fund two positions in her office. She also is looking into why crime forfeiture money was used to upgrade communications equipment in a county boardroom.
In her response to an order to show cause that was drafted by County Attorney Michael C. Crowe and signed by Judge Vito C. Caruso, the administrative judge for the Fourth Judicial District, Ms. Rain said last week that, due to insufficient paperwork and a lack of jurisdiction by Judge Caruso, she should not be disqualified as DA from those investigations.
Ms. Rain previously had been reported as saying an elected DA cannot turn over his or her duties to a special prosecutor, by law, and “can only be removed from conducting a constitutionally embodied grand jury investigation under rare circumstances, none of which apply here.”
She was quoted as telling North Country Now in a July 16 interview that she had “consulted with members of the District Attorneys Association of New York on this matter, as well as other DAs placed in a similar situation as this office, and they have all confirmed as much.”
Ms. Rain did not return requests for comment.
District Attorneys Association President Frank A. Sedita III, Erie County district attorney, said the association has not endorsed Ms. Rain’s intention to convene a grand jury to investigate the two matters.
In an email to the newspaper, Mr. Sedita said it was his understanding that Ms. Rain opposed the filing of the order seeking her disqualification.
“According to some media accounts, DA Rain purportedly indicated the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York recommended she commence a grand jury investigation and, by implication, that DAASNY supports her position,” Mr. Sedita wrote.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment upon the pending litigation, especially when it concerns matters presented to, or intended to be presented to, a grand jury. I can, however, advise you that DAASNY neither encouraged DA Rain to embark upon her current course, nor does DAASNY endorse the position of DA Rain in the current litigation concerning these matters.”
Ms. Rain’s 73-page response to the order to show cause with included exhibits — Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard’s attorney affirmation and a memorandum of law submitted by Ms. Rain and drafted by Mr. Haggard — said the county didn’t meet all the legal requirements when it served its order to show cause.
According to Ms. Rain’s memorandum, the affidavit from County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire and Mr. Crowe’s attorney affirmation filed with the county’s order “are incompetent and thus do not confer jurisdiction on this court to grant relief.”
Mr. Crowe’s order seeking to have Ms. Rain replaced by a special prosecutor in both county investigations offered no authority establishing Judge Caruso’s jurisdiction over the matter, the memorandum said.
Ms. Rain said Ms. St. Hilaire has “tried to sway the court with innuendo, speculation and outright falsities regarding the motivations behind any investigation by the grand jury.”
In her affidavit to Judge Caruso, Ms. St. Hilaire wrote that it appeared that Ms. Rain was conducting a grand jury investigation in an attempt to influence negotiations with the county space committee to gain a larger office space in the County Court building.
“I and other department heads opposed her requests for office space due to the cost and effect on other departments,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote in her affidavit, adding that the announcement of the investigation has had a “chilling effect” toward reaching a resolution in the matter.
Ms. Rain said a scheduled space committee meeting was canceled, at the request of Mr. Crowe, five days before grand jury investigative subpoenas were served.
“This conjecture without fact stated by Ms. St. Hilaire is the classic red herring so often fished for by those who have no solid case,” Ms. Rain wrote. “It is quite obvious the county administrator, through the county attorney, devised this red herring to punish the district attorney’s office because the space committee was ready to approve the requested space at the July 2, 2014 meeting.”
Mr. Haggard said Ms. Rain could not be removed as district attorney because, as the county put forward in its request, there was no appearance of impropriety and no conflict of interest.
Those subpoenas seeking the production of the documents before the grand jury are returnable Tuesday.
Mr. Haggard said that, according to case law, it is up to the district attorney to decide whether there is a conflict of interest. If Ms. Rain were to determine that such a conflict existed, it would be up to her to choose the proper course of action.
Because the county’s application to seek a special prosecutor is “improper and premature” and “for lack of standing” and “lack of jurisdiction,” Mr. Haggard and Ms. Rain closed by asking Judge Caruso to deny the request in its entirety.
Judge Caruso is expected to make his decision in the coming weeks.