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District Attorney's Office

DA's office prevails on three appeals

By Press Release
Mar 23, 2022, 4:25pm

Press release:

In cases that were decided on Friday, March 18, the regional appellate court affirmed three felony convictions prosecuted by the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office.

  • Michael B. Collier’s conviction for attempted assault in the second degree was affirmed. He was convicted in 2019 of fighting with an inmate of the Genesee County Jail while both men were incarcerated there. The incident was caught on surveillance video. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, noted “the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.” To read the full decision, click here (pdf).
  • Iszon C. Richardson’s sentence was affirmed; he was convicted of burglary in the second degree in 2019 and was sentenced to five years in state prison. While pending sentencing on a previous felony charge, Richardson committed burglary and criminal contempt for being in the home of, and fighting with, the same protected party as in the prior conviction. To read the full decision, click here (pdf).
  • Anthony Spencer, Jr., was convicted of gang assault in the first degree and assault in the first degree, and in 2018 was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. A witness testified at trial that Spencer, along with up to nine others, attacked the victim with a cooking pan. Batavia Police Officer Arick Perkins received the Life-Saver Award for applying a tourniquet to the victim. On appeal, Spencer argued that, among other things, his trial attorney was ineffective for allowing the jury to hear about Spencer’s nickname, “Trouble.” He also argued that the jury should have been told that Spencer could have been justified in his attack of the victim. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rejected Spencer’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and determined that “Contrary to defendant’s further contention, County Court properly denied his request for a justification instruction.” To read the full decision, click here (pdf).

The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc., represented all three defendants on appeal. Assistant District Attorney Robert J. Shoemaker represented the People of the State of New York on appeal in all three matters.

Video: Exit interview with District Attorney Lawrence Friedman

By Howard B. Owens
Dec 9, 2021, 8:43pm
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After 40 years as a prosecutor, including the past 24 as district attorney for Genesee County, Lawrence Friedman ended a distinguished career and enters into retirement.

This morning, n his last day in the office, The Batavian asked him a few questions about his career.

Many new faces in the District Attorney's Office

By Press Release
Dec 23, 2020, 4:42pm

Press release:

Eleven years ago the attorneys working in the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office at that time had an average of 25 years of experience. Current First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell was still the “new guy“ in the office, having been there for 19 years.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman has now been with the office for nearly 39 years and Finnell, with 30 years of experience as a prosecutor, is no longer the “new guy." From March of last year until September of this year, all five of the other Assistant District attorneys began their careers with the office, along with the office’s two new paralegals. In other words, seven of the office's 13 employees started within that 18-month period.

These are the new attorneys and paralegals:

Kaitlynn Schmit joined the office as an Assistant District Attorney in March of 2019, having previously worked as an Assistant Counsel with the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and briefly as a Staff Attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo.

Joseph Robinson joined the office as an Assistant District Attorney in June of 2019, immediately after graduating from law school and becoming an attorney.

Cheryl Nielsen worked at a private law firm, the Wayne County Public Defender’s office and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office before joining the Genesee County District Attorney’s office in January of this year.

Robert “Bo” Shoemaker started with the office in April of this year after serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Monroe County for five years, an Appellate Court Attorney with the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department for two years and a litigator with the New York City Law Department for one year.

Andrew DiPasquale became an Assistant District Attorney in Genesee County in August of this year, after spending three years working in Albany for the New York State Senate and then the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission.

Gabrielle Krzemien became a Paralegal with the office in December 2019 after working as a Legal Assistant at the law firm of Connors and Ferris in Cheektowaga for one year and then as a Paralegal for the Buffalo law firm of Goldberg Segalla for a year and a half.

Alexandria Almeter joined the office as a Paralegal in March of this year, after working in the same capacity at the DiMatteo and Roach law office in Warsaw for one year.

In addition to Friedman and Finnell, the other “long term” employees of the office are Confidential Secretary Lacie Snell and legal clerk typists Kathleen Schrider, Rhonda Natalizia and Andrea Agan-Silverling. Rosanne DeMare, a Victim Counselor employed by Genesee Justice, also works out of the District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Friedman and First Assistant District Attorney Finnell are very proud of their staff and happy to have all of these new additions to the office, who all fit in well and are doing great in their new positions.

Photo: Kevin Finnell sworn in as new First Assistant District Attorney

By Howard B. Owens
Jan 13, 2020, 9:25pm

Kevin Finnell, after 29 years with the District Attorney's Office, officially became Lawrence Friedman's top assistant this afternoon when he was sworn in by County Court Judge Charles Zambito as the new First Assistant District Attorney.

Finnell replaces Melissa Cianfrini, who quit without notice on Friday.

After taking the oath, Finnell thanked Friedman for "the faith he has shown in me" and said, "I will do my very best to faithfully to live up to the expectations placed in me by this appointment by Mr. Friedman and continue to serve the citizens of Genesee County to the best of my abilities."

Kevin Finnell promoted to First District Attorney

By Howard B. Owens
Jan 13, 2020, 10:15am

Press release from District Attorney Lawrence Friedman:

"I am very pleased to announce that longtime Assistant District Attorney Kevin T. Finnell is being promoted to the position of First Assistant District Attorney. Mr. Finnell is a highly experienced prosecuting attorney, having served more than 29 years with this office. ADA Finnell is a very knowledgeable, motivated public servant, who consistently exercises appropriate judgment in the prosecution of criminal cases.

"When longtime Bergen Town Justice Donald R. Kunego retired, his notice of retirement made mention of 'the outstanding professionalism of ADA Kevin Finnell.'

"In 2018 ADA Finnell received a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition 'for the highest level of professional assistance he has provided to the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.' The Certificate stated that his 'professional skills and consistent high performance has been a major contributor to the overall effectiveness of the Sheriff's Office and the efforts of the Local Drug Task Force...Kevin T. Finnell has brought great credit upon himself and his chosen career as a Prosecutor.'

"Last Spring, based on nominations from the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, Mr. Finnell received the statewide MADD Law Enforcement Recognition Award and the Kiwanis Club of Batavia Criminal Justice Award. In endorsing the MADD nomination, I referred to ADA Finnell’s enthusiasm for the job, work ethic and advocacy skills.

"I am confident that Kevin Finnell will do a great job in his new role and that he is fully capable of running this office in my absence."

Previously: First District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini resigns suddenly

District Attorney working to get to full staff even before sudden resignation of top assistant

By Howard B. Owens
Jan 10, 2020, 3:34pm

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman is currently managing an office with five vacancies at a time when the workload has increased because of changes in state law around how evidence is handled but he said everything is under control.

As first reported by The Batavian last night, First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini resigned, apparently without notice, yesterday. 

Last week, ADA Shirley Gorman announced her departure at the end of the month to take another job.  Meanwhile, Friedman is anticipating filling a new ADA position in 2020 plus a part-time ADA.

The new positions were authorized by the County Legislature for the 2020 budget to help the DA's office deal with the state's new rules reporting evidence disclosure to defendants. 

While in the budget, Friedman must get authorization to advertise the positions. He will make presentations to the Public Service Committee on Jan. 13, Ways and Means on Jan. 15, with a vote for the full Legislature coming on Jan. 22.

"It has proven to be a challenge to find good candidates for vacancies, not only in our office but in other law departments in Genesee county and in other counties," Friedman said.

One new ADA has already been selected and will begin work Jan. 27.

The current DA's staff: ADAs Kevin Finnell, Shirley Gorman, Kaitlynn Schmit, and Joseph Robinson. The support staff is made up of confidential secretary Lacie Snell, paralegal Gabrielle Montalbano, legal clerk-typist Katie Schrider, legal clerk-typist Rhonda Natalizia, and legal clerk-typist Andrea Agan.

As for hiring a new First ADA, Friedman said he will have an announcement about that "very soon."

The departure of Cianfrini, who was the heir apparent for the DA's job, won't affect Friedman's retirement plans he said. His term expires on Dec. 31, 2021. He said he has no comment on next year's DA election.

Friedman said even under current conditions, the current staff is getting the job done.

"We are dealing with the workload in the interim by constantly adapting, working extra hours and coming up with new ways to meet our deadlines," Friedman said. "I am very proud of every member of our dedicated and talented staff, who have all been constantly assuming new and challenging responsibilities relating to the unreasonable and ill-conceived Discovery obligations recently imposed on us by the State of New York.

"Everyone in this office is working under a great deal of pressure, yet keeping a positive attitude. We have a great team! While the State, as is typical, has foisted yet another unfunded mandate on us, the Genesee County Legislature, the County Manager, the Batavia City Council and the City Manager have educated themselves re: our needs and they have all been totally supportive of our office at this very difficult time."

Photo: Lawrence Friedman, 2011 file photo.

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First District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini resigns suddenly

By Howard B. Owens
Jan 9, 2020, 7:27pm

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman issued a memo to members of the local legal community today announcing the immediate resignation of First District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini.

The Batavian obtained a copy of the memo this evening. It reads:

First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini announced today that she has made the difficult decision to resign her position with the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office effective immediately and that she has other opportunities that she would like to pursue. I thank Melissa for her years of service and wish her well in the future.

Reached via text message, Friedman declined further comment.

We've attempted to make contact with Cianfrini and have yet to reach her.

Cianfrini, an Oakfield resident and wife of County Clerk Michael Cianfrini, joined the DA's office in 2009. She was promoted to first district attorney in 2017. With Friedman planning to retire at the end of his current term, she appeared, before today's resignation, to be his likely heir apparent.

Her resignation comes at a time when the DA's office is adjusting to an increased caseload, with additional staff, because of new, more rigorous, discovery rules in New York. The new rules require the office to turn over more evidence to defense attorneys in a more timely manner.

Photo: File photo.

Shortage of prosecutors has hit 'crisis' stage, DA warns County Legislature

By Howard B. Owens
Sep 14, 2018, 4:54pm

Changes in technology and criminal law in New York have increased the workload in the District Attorney's Office, according to DA Lawrence Friedman, to a point that is unsustainable and either some cases won't get prosecuted by his office or good attorneys will quit their jobs.

Friedman described the burdens on his office in a letter to the County Legislature to support his request for additional staffing.

"Without such additional resources, our attorneys will not be able to continue to shoulder all of the added responsibilities and time commitments that have been placed on us over the years," Friedman said. "Instead, we will need to figure out how we will implement a reduction in services. We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we do know that it will not be good for public safety in this community."

Reduced services could include:

  • Discontinue the prosecution of violations of probation, leaving probation officers to handle the violations themselves;
  • Discontinue the prosecution of non-criminal offenses, such as disorderly conduct, harassment, and unlawful possession of marijuana, leaving it up to the arresting officers to prosecute those cases;
  • Reduce the time spent educating new officers about criminal and court procedures.

Friedman is asking for at least one new full-time assistant DA. There are four now. 

When Friedman was himself an assistant, there were seven part-time (30 hours a week) prosecutors in the DA's office for a total of 210 attorney hours a week. In 1996, Friedman, newly appointed to DA, learned the county could obtain state money to fund a full-time DA so the county eliminated three part-time positions in favor of two full-time positions. When the county switched to five full-time prosecutors, it reduced the number of total attorney hours to 187.5, which helped save the county money, according to Friedman.

In recent years, the workload for prosecutors has increased substantially, Friedman said, because of: 

  • Body-worn cameras, video-recorded suspect interviews, more surveillance footage of crime scenes. Before the age of ubiquitous video, most cases involved written documents that could be reviewed in minutes. Now, sometimes, a prosecutor must spend hours watching video, and sometimes the video must be viewed more than once, including times to prep witnesses, review with police officers, besides the initial review to see what if any evidence the videos might contain.
  • The DA's office has been hit with numerous serious crimes over the past couple of years that assistant DAs help with during the investigation and then if an arrest has been made, handle the prosecution. These crimes include a gang-assault case, a homicide at the Sunset Motel, a deputy-involved shooting, a homicide on Liberty Street, a shooting on Jackson Street, a shooting on Thorpe Street, a series of residential burglaries, a stabbing and murder on Central Avenue, child sex offenses, a fatal hit-and-run in Darien, an attempted murder and arson on Maple Street, vehicular assaults in Corfu and Pavilion, a stabbing in the Town of Batavia, a stabbing on Ross Street, two first-degree rape cases, and follow up on a cold case murder.
  • There has been an increase in search warrant applications.
  • New state laws, such as Jenna's Law, Megan's Law, and Leandra's Law has added time and tasks to the prosecution of some criminal cases.
  • Big Box stores have increased the number of reported larcenies and forgeries.
  • DNA is helping to open cold cases.
  • Since Friedman became DA, new courts have opened, including Drug Treatment Court, DWI Treatment Court, Mental Health Treatment Court, Veterans Court, Domestic Violence Court, and now the new Youth Court opening next month.

Assistant DAs work a lot of hours beyond their standard "9-5" shift, Friedman said. In additional evening hours for town courts, they are on call 24/7.

A  recent example, Friedman said, was the fatal hit-and-run in Darien. ADA Shirley Gorman was called into the case on an early Sunday morning and worked 12 hours. Friedman and First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini also assisted that Sunday with the case. 

"Altogether, the attorneys in our office spent about 40 hours on this case in the first three days and many more hours since then," Friedman said. "Unfortunately, this type of scenario is becoming more and more common. I am concerned that this could result in our attorneys becoming 'burned out' and/or leaving for 'greener pastures.' "

He concluded the letter calling the current situation a "crisis."

"This is the most serious staffing concern that I've ever faced," said Friedman, who has worked in the DA's office for 37 years, and who plans to retire in 2021. 

"I sincerely hope that an inability to get the help we need will not become the next impediment to the effective prosecution of crimes committed in Genesee County," Friedman said. "The current District Attorney truly hopes that his legacy will not be that of leaving an office that is understaffed and thus unable to properly serve the citizens of this County and he assumes that our County Legislature does not want that to be their legacy either."

Photo: DA's staff sworn into office

By Howard B. Owens
Dec 28, 2017, 4:58pm

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and his staff, including new First Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini, took their oaths of office today at the County Courthouse.

Submitted photo: Lawrence Friedman, Robert Zickl, County Clerk Michael Cianfrini, Melissa Cianfrini, Kevin Finnell, and Shirley Gorman.

Melissa Cianfrini promoted to First District Attorney, D.A. announces today

By Billie Owens
Dec 5, 2017, 3:55pm

Press release:

On Jan. 1, Assistant District Attorney Melissa L. Cianfrini will be promoted to the reestablished position of First District Attorney, Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman announced this afternoon.

Cianfrini has been with the office for nearly eight years and has been a litigation attorney for 18 years.

Friedman said that he has been very pleased with the initiative, work ethic and legal skills demonstrated by Cianfrini; that their partners in the criminal justice community have given him nothing but positive feedback about her performance as a prosecuting attorney.

He is very confident, he said, that his office and the community will continue to be well served by First Assistant District Attorney Cianfrini.

The D.A. also expressed his gratitude to County Manager Jay Gsell for supporting the re-instatement of the First Assistant District Attorney position and to the Genesee County Legislature for understanding the need for the D.A.'s office to once again have someone in this role.

Staff changes announced for the District Attorney's Office

By Howard B. Owens
Dec 15, 2016, 4:46pm

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman officially announced two personnel changes in his office that will take effect Jan. 1.

William G. Zickl has tendered his resignation to take a position as court attorney in the Genesee County Court under Charles Zambito, the new judge. Zickl has been an assistant district attorney for 29 years.

Shirley A. Gorman will join Friedman's staff as an ADA. Gorman has more than 30 years experience in criminal law.

Colleagues agree, it will take a humble, hard-working attorney with a big intellect to replace David Gann in DA's office

By Howard B. Owens
Mar 9, 2012, 7:00pm

In retirement, David Gann still worries about how technology will change law enforcement.

"When I started, an IBM Selectric (typewriter) was state-of-the-art technology and copy machines were still brand-new," Gann said. "Now, pretty soon, we won't have paper files any more. It's interesting to see the transformation going on, but we don't know if we will be able to access these files in 50 years. We still have files in MS-DOS and we don't know how much longer we can access those."

Former colleague Bob Zickl said in a letter recommending Gann for a major award that Gann could always talk "matter of factly about the next great technical or financial catastrophe."

The predilection to fret about looming technical difficulties is only one of the qualities of the former first assistant district attorney that enamored Gann to his colleagues.

He retired from the District Attorney's Office at the end of 2011, voluntarily giving up his position so that nobody else in the office would lose a job to satisfy the county's budget ax.

With his retirement came a statewide award from District Attorney's Association, the Robert M. Morgenthau Award, given to an assistant of the highest professional standards.

It's the first time an attorney from Genesee County received the fairly new honor.

"The greatest honor was just being nominated," Gann said. "To have my professional colleagues recommend me for such an award means a lot to me."

Besides ADA Zickl, backing Gann's nomination was District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, Genesee County Court Judge (and former District Attorney) Robert Noonan, Sheriff Gary Maha, Batavia Det. Charles Dudek and Le Roy Police Det. John Condidorio.

Gann's supporters praised his work ethic, his encyclopedic knowledge of criminal statutes and case law, his even temper (Zickl said he never once heard Gann utter a profanity in 27 years of working together), his ethics and adherence to the law and his desire to see justice done.

Besides handling all felony drug cases, Gann was the DNA expert in the office and handled the DNA portion of all murder trials from January 1997 through March 2010.

The drug work, Gann said was particularly important.

"I don't think we will ever totally eliminate drugs from the community," Gann said. "What we tried to do was make sure the guys who came out here to deal to think twice before doing it. We wanted to chase them inside so they would only deal with people they knew, so they wouldn't feel comfortable with people outside and stay off of street corners."

Condidorio praised Gann's work in helping investigators make cases against drug dealers.

"(Gann has) made a tremendous impact on Genesee County, taking significant drug dealers off the street and making it more difficult for them to spread their poisons to our youth and underprivileged," Condidorio wrote.

Noonan wrote a mock "help wanted" ad as part of his recommendation that demonstrated what big shoes the DA's office will need to fill if there's ever money in the budget to replace Gann.

Among the qualifications -- more than 30 years experience in New York's criminal justice system, scores of grand jury presentations and hundreds of briefs responding to appeals.

The candidate must also have the personal strength to deal with strong-willed police officers dealing with stressful searches in order to guide them toward the proper procedures.

"It is essential that this individual have the personal self-confidence to never gloat about an intellect that exceeds coworkers, lawyers and judges," Noonan wrote.

With the award won and no cases on the court docket, Gann's days and nights are no longer spent fretting over the proper wording of a search warrant application.

He's busy helping out with Friday fish fries at St. James Episcopal Church in Batavia, or reading, or getting out to community events with his wife, Marcia.

The Ganns have no plans to leave Genesee County.

"In Batavia, a small town, everything is smaller scale," Gann said. "You tend to know everybody and that makes it more rewarding to get involved. It's part of what makes Batavia, Batavia."

Gann's biggest plan for retirement is to do more things with Marcia.

"I have a wonderful wife and I enjoy being around her," Gann said. "That's my number-one priority."

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