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Surrogate prosecutor

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The Mary E. Rain vs. Nicole M. Duve campaign for the office of St. Lawrence County district attorney last year made for a compelling story.

Ms. Rain previously served as the public defender in St. Lawrence County but was eventually stripped of her duties. During her campaign last year, she said some county officials had objected to how much work she was creating for the district attorney’s office with all the motions she was filing on behalf of her clients.

She had previously served as a prosecutor as well as a police officer. Since leaving the public defender’s office, she had been running her own private practice as a criminal defense attorney.

Ms. Duve had been the district attorney for St. Lawrence County for eight years, but many had come to question her performance. She and members of her staff appeared woefully ill-prepared to prosecute some high-profile criminal cases. All she could tell voters was that she would “try” harder in a third term.

Given that both candidates had serious problems running public offices, the campaign issue came down to the lesser of two evils for some. It’s obvious that Ms. Duve and Ms. Rain each had enthusiastic supporters. But many people had to discern who would be less inept at the job.

The electorate didn’t accept Ms. Duve’s explanation about the problems she’s had and handed the position over to Ms. Rain. Voters saw in her the possibility that things might improve in the district attorney’s office.

In all the debate over who would make the better district attorney, one detail seemed to fall through the cracks. If Ms. Rain won the election, who would handle cases involving people she’s represented as a defense attorney? If she couldn’t take on that work due to the conflict of interest, who would be left to fill the void?

County Judge Jerome J. Richards recently provided an answer. He named Ms. Duve as a special prosecutor to oversee certain cases for the county.

These cases include “Bobbie Jo Zeller, the Norfolk woman accused of bilking a priest and others out of some $300,000,” according to a Wednesday story in the Watertown Daily Times. Other cases include “Olajuwon J. Holt,19, Rochester, charged in an April drug-related stabbing and robbery in Ogdensburg; Tige K. Smith Jr., 25, the last remaining defendant of four Buffalo men who were charged in January 2013 with being involved in an Ogdensburg-area drug ring; and the rape case against Trevor J. Secore, 19, Massena, who is charged with two counts of first-degree rape and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child after he allegedly had sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl in the summer of 2012 and again in January 2013, after she had turned 14,” the story reported.

Ms. Duve’s selection as special prosecutor (at $125 per hour) is interesting, to say the least. Judge Richard reasoned that it would cost the county more to hire a lawyer who wasn’t as familiar with the cases as Ms. Duve is, which may well be true.

We trust Ms. Duve will be granted the necessary resources to handle the cases she’s been given. That “I’ll try harder” spirit would come in handy right about now, and she can show the people of St. Lawrence County that her skills as a prosecutor are more fine-tuned than many of them thought.

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