BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - In a move that shocked the Domestic Violence Court, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita has stopped prosecuting misdemeanors and violations in this special court.
The court handles all aspects of a domestic violence case, which could include custody issues, visitation rights, and orders of protection. The D.A. claims this is just too much for two of his prosecutors to handle.
"A prosecutor should criminally prosecuting a criminal case," Sedita said. "We shouldn't be involved in matrimonial cases and family disputes and those kinds of things."
The first trial at the Domestic Violence Court in 2004 involved the abuse of western New York wife and mother Susan Still, whose husband humiliated and beat her and had one of his children video tape the abuse. Ulner Still is serving a 36-year prison sentence.
The court was created to centralize all the issues in a domestic dispute case.
Eighth Judicial District Administrative Judge Paula Feroleto said, "The idea was one judge, one family. The one judge would know everything and come to a global resolution."
The D.A.says he is all for prosecuting cases that involve assault, strangulation, stalking, and threatening behavior, but says his prosecutors are getting weighed down on cases that don't warrant the D.A.'s attention.
Sedita argued, "[The cases] are not viable domestic violence prosecutions. They may be cases of domestic discord or domestic dysfunction. Surely those things are not appropriate, but often those things are not crimes."
Judge Feroleto says D.A.'s refusal to prosecute misdemeanor cases in the Domestic Violence Court is unacceptable.
"I was shocked when I received his unilateral letter with no discussion whatsoever with the court about the action he was taking," she said.
Sedita responded, "I know it's controversial. What else I can do?"
The D.A.says he will continue prosecuting felony cases in the court, but that the court should help pay for his prosecutors for their work in cases where lesser crimes may have been committed.
"Our efforts have been rebuked at every turn, and I'm forced to do things this way," Sedita said. "This is not the preferred course that I want to take."
Judge Feroleto responded, "Frankly, I think the time for rhetoric is over, and I wish the District Attorney would sit down and talk to us rather than call the news for interviews."
For the record, News 4 called the D.A. for an interview.
The question of whether the D.A.'s office can stop prosecuting misdemeanors and violations in this court may have to be settled....in court.
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