Both candidates for Herkimer County District Attorney have attempted to run for the top prosecutor’s position based on the merit of their experience and qualifications.
But somewhere along the way during this year’s campaign, Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter and former assistant county attorney Mary Iocovozzi found themselves lobbing and dodging criticisms meant to undermine each other’s campaigns.
Iocovozzi has questioned Carpenter’s ability to juggle two full-time jobs as acting DA and a local college professor. She’s also suggested Carpenter’s legal judgment could put county taxpayers on the line for “costly mistakes” and questioned whether he was doing enough to bring closure in a baby’s possible homicide.
Carpenter, in turn, has accused Iocovozzi of politicizing an open death investigation and has questioned her ability to be an effective DA in light of a family estate dispute that accuses Iocovozzi of fraudulent behavior. Although Iocovozzi has handled trials of juveniles in front of a judge, Carpenter also argues her lack of trial experience in front of an actual jury should give voters concern.
Either way, both candidates hope to bring the best of their legal vision to the job if elected on Tuesday. Here are their answers to three questions regarding the DA’s race:
What professional skills and personal qualities will you bring to the District Attorney’s Office that you believe set you apart from your opponent?
Carpenter: As the acting district attorney for the past 10 months and an assistant district attorney for more than a decade, I have been called on to prosecute some of the most serious and complicated criminal offenses to have ever been committed in Herkimer County. Those responsibilities have included the prosecution of offenses from the investigative stage to arrest and ultimately to resolution. I have successfully conducted approximately 30 felony jury trials to verdict without a single acquittal. In addition, I have been responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office, which includes instructing and conducting investigations before the Grand Jury, the supervision of 11 employees, overseeing the reporting requirements of the office as well as the management of the budget. I am the only candidate with the experience necessary to ensure an uninterrupted continuation of the prosecutions and services provided by the District Attorney’s Office.
Iocovozzi: I have more substantial trial and courtroom experience, having practiced in Supreme Courts in seven central New York counties, together with four City Courts and Federal District Court. I have also prosecuted municipal codes and health violations for city and town governments. As a former Herkimer County juvenile prosecutor, I prosecuted the equivalent of felony and misdemeanor cases with trials for over 10 years numbering hundreds of cases. I represented defendants in local criminal courts before prosecuting juveniles; this prosecutorial function prohibited me from criminal practice. In my 30 years of practicing, I appeared before state appellate courts. My last four cases in the past three years were favorable to my clients. The last appeal went to the Court of Appeals which left the appellate decision intact. My style is to be aggressive with my cases and well-prepared for trial. I am accessible, hardworking and thorough.
Page 2 of 3 - What ways do you believe the District Attorney’s Office can be improved if you are elected?
Carpenter: I will equip the office with the latest state of the art prosecutorial tools and software with the funds we have already seized from criminal prosecutions. I will utilize the training opportunities offered by the New York Prosecutor’s Training Institute. I will continue to offer round-the-clock access by law enforcement and to continue vertical prosecution of felonies. Vertical prosecution allows the same prosecutor to handle the case from investigation through trial, ensuring thorough knowledge of the case and continuity in the relationships with law enforcement and victims. I will continue to have a presence at the monthly meeting of the chiefs of police, as well as the investigators, to ensure the DA’s Office remains informed about the issues facing law enforcement. Finally, I will actively participate as a member of the District Attorney’s Association of New York to further the beneficial working relationships that I have with prosecutors statewide.
Iocovozzi: I have a comprehensive plan for major changes in the office. A formal forfeiture program to seize the fruits of felony crimes will be initiated. Cash and property can be seized and channeled for law enforcement purposes and to supplement the DA’s Office budget. In 2010 and 2011, forfeitures in Herkimer County averaged $67 per year. I will aggressively pursue grant applications for programs and equipment. Technology will be enhanced to include a website for educational purposes for the public benefit. Properly charging defendants is a priority to avoid excessive plea bargains and dismissal of felony charges in County Court. Regular meetings among assistant district attorneys to discuss and review cases will be initiated. Mandatory coverage at local courts on court dates will be an office policy. When assigned counsel for defendants appears, it costs the taxpayer for each appearance and inhibits speedy resolution of cases.
How does your view of the responsibilities of District Attorney differ from your opponent’s views?
Carpenter: To me, the primary responsibility of the District Attorney is to ethically prosecute crime while protecting the rights of victims, the public and the defendant. It is to seek justice. A prosecutor must make incredibly difficult decisions that can have a profound impact on another’s life. For more than a decade, I have been making those decisions. My opponent is more concerned with quickly concluding investigations and rushing to judgment than taking a methodical and careful approach. She is promising to raise revenues through forfeitures without the possibility of knowing if any such opportunities will present themselves. She believes it is more important to disseminate information about pending investigations to the public than to protect cases from being compromised. In electing a district attorney, the public places their trust in that person to do the right thing and I believe they are concerned more with actual performance than exaggerated promises.
Page 3 of 3 - Iocovozzi: This position has always required 100 percent focus and a 24/7 commitment. A prosecutor’s first duty is to insure justice for the victim and the accused without distraction. Following trial procedure and the rules of evidence is critical to sustain convictions. The last two decisions by the Court of Appeals found major flaws in the prosecutor’s cases. The Court of Appeals is now scrutinizing my opponent’s trial skills and the defendant is claiming prosecutorial misconduct, which may jeopardize that conviction. A notice of claim was filed against the Herkimer County Department of Social Services in reference to a foster child. The DA’s Office is investigating the death of the same foster child. An attorney for the Department of Social Services is also an assistant district attorney. I would have sought the appointment of a special prosecutor to avoid the appearance of impropriety or conflict by the DA’s Office.