Local Matters

Recent comments

Community Sponsors

Genesee County District Attorney's Office

June 16, 2021 - 12:04pm

Noting that it was “bound to happen sooner or later,” Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman is overseeing a relatively inexperienced staff as he moves toward retirement after more than 24 years on the job.

Friedman provided a review of his department at Monday’s Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting, reporting that all five of his line assistant district attorneys were hired during the past 27 months, and when he retires at the end of this year, the office will have another new attorney.

He said he hopes that these attorneys – Kaitlynn Schmit, Joseph Robinson, Robert Shoemaker, Andrew DiPasquale and Aaron Moore – will continue to serve the county after his departure.

“I’d like to think that most of them will stay,” he said. “Eleven years ago, every attorney had more than 20 years’ experience. When I retire, nobody will have more than two and a half years. It’s a major change, and I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.”

First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell, who has been an assistant DA for 30 years, is running unopposed in November to succeed Friedman.

Friedman was an assistant district attorney for six years and first assistant DA for nine years prior to becoming the DA.

He said it has yet to be determined if Finnell’s position will be filled internally or not.

In his report, Friedman said that operations have not returned to pre-pandemic conditions, stating that town and village courts have reopened but on a limited basis. County Court recently returned to full staffing but many matters are being handled virtually.

The county’s first post-COVID-19 felony jury trial is taking place this month.

“We have, not surprisingly, built up a substantial backlog of cases and it will take quite some time to get caught up,” he reported, adding that it is a cause for concern with many new employees on board.

He said he is requesting the creation of a temporary assistant DA position and also hopes to find an experienced prosecutor to fill in for another assistant DA who will be on parental leave.

Friedman reported that a Discovery Reform grant for $228,720 has been obtained, with $3,791 going to the Village of Le Roy, $48,898 to the City of Batavia and the remaining $176,031 to Genesee County. The latter amount fully covers the Discovery Reform expenses incurred for the one-year grant period by the DA’s office and Sheriff’s Office, he said.

PROBATION DEPARTMENT UPDATE

County Probation Director Timothy Michalak presented his department review as well, reporting that about 500 adults currently are on probation and that he expects that number to go up.

“(With bail reform,) you can’t put anybody in jail so, yes, I believe it will increase,” he said.

Michalak reported that the department’s probation officers are handling an average of 70 cases each, calling that number “not terrible – a bit over the 50 that is recommended,” but thinks that amount is bound to increase as the court system returns to normal.

He informed the committee of the department’s “Ce Check-In” software that enhanced its supervision during the pandemic with time, date and location stamps and, on smart phones, photo capability.

“Going forward, we’re going to continue using it to a smaller extent,” he said.

Concerning the department’s budget, Michalak said he saw no major issues, and anticipates receiving full reimbursement from New York State – not the 20 percent less than he had budgeted.

He also said Probation received $30,000 more in Department of Social Services shared services funding, and that covers a large percentage of two juvenile probation officers and one juvenile supervisor.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE RENEWS SRO PACTS

On another law enforcement front, the PSC recommended approval of renewals of memorandum of understanding with Alexander, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama school districts and Genesee Valley BOCES for school resource officers for the 2021-22 school year.

The Alexander contract covers a full year – July 1-June 30 – while the Pembroke and O-A pacts run from Sept. 1-June 30. Genesee Valley BOCES increased its coverage from 10 to 12 months.

The full year costs to each district and BOCES are in the $98,000 to $99,000 range.

Sheriff William Sheron submitted another resolution to accept $41,876 from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to continue the Community Service Sentencing Program and Pretrial Services Program for one year, starting July 1.

The sheriff also reported that the Village of Bergen wishes to renew a contract for additional road patrols for another year, effective June 1, at a cost not to exceed $13,500.

The PSC recommended for approval both the grant and increased road patrol resolutions.

June 4, 2020 - 1:26pm

Melissa Cianfrini is back as a Genesee County employee, this time as the Assistant County Attorney.

County Attorney Kevin D. Earl today confirmed that Cianfrini, who unexpectedly resigned her position as the county’s First Assistant District Attorney in January, was hired on Feb. 25 at a salary of $78,086 – about $13,000 less than she was making as First Assistant DA.

When asked for specific information about her duties, Earl said that neither he nor Cianfrini would be available for comment.

In an email sent to The Batavian, Earl wrote, “As per the County policy, I am only able to provide you with the following information (hire date, job title, salary).”

According to the job posting at the time, the job description includes representing the Department of Social Services in cases involving child support, foster care, parental rights and child abuse as well as proceedings involving public assistance, Medicaid, juvenile delinquency and Family Court.

Additional duties listed: Providing legal advice on behalf of the commissioner of Social Services and other county departments.

Cianfrini is a resident of Oakfield and the wife of County Clerk Michael Cianfrini. She joined the DA’s office in 2009 and was promoted to first assistant district attorney eight years later.

Before resigning, she appeared to be in line to succeed District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, who is planning to retire at the end of his current term.

April 9, 2020 - 8:56am

The Genesee County District Attorney’s Office and the family of murder victim Norman D. “Don” Ball vehemently oppose an application that would permit Kyle Johnson to be moved from a secure mental health facility in Orange County to a non-secure facility.120mug_kylejohnson_1.jpg

Johnson (photo at right), in December of 2016, was committed to the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton after being found not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect of murder.

It was a year earlier, on Dec. 1, 2015, when Johnson shot the 69-year-old Ball to death while he was sleeping at his Selden Road, Le Roy residence.

Johnson then returned to his own home, set it on fire and then fired shots at a Le Roy fire chief and Le Roy police officer when they responded to the fire alarm. Following an hours-long standoff -- during which Johnson reportedly asked officers to shoot him and threatened officers with a rifle in his arms – the perpetrator surrendered peacefully to authorities.

These actions led District Attorney Lawrence Friedman to file an eight-count indictment against Johnson that included charges of murder, burglary, arson and attempted murder.

In the end, Johnson was evaluated by a pair of psychologists – one hired by the prosecution and the other hired by the defense – and it was determined that he was not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect.

Tentative court date set for April 29

Three years and four months later, officials at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center are petitioning Orange County Supreme Court to allow Johnson to be transferred to a non-secure facility. A tentative date of April 29 has been set by the court to ensure the matter stays on the court’s calendar.

Assistant District Attorney Diane LaVallee, who has been assigned to the case, on Tuesday said the Genesee County DA’s office is against the proposed transfer considering the severity of the crimes committed and the timing of such a move.

“For someone to go from, so obviously, terribly dangerously mentally ill to not being dangerously mentally ill after three years of services … this is hard to believe,” LaVallee said. “I think that everyone expected that this was going to happen someday but no one, including Mr. Friedman, would have ever believed that it would be this quickly. It’s very, very soon.”

LaVallee, with 35 years’ experience as a prosecutor, joined the Genesee County DA’s office recently. She previously served as deputy chief of Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit of the NYS Attorney General’s Office and, before that, chief of the Attorney General’s Capital Assistance to Prosecutors Unit.

She said her office is taking all steps necessary to ensure that Johnson, who was 53 at the time of the murder, stays in a secure mental health facility.

DA's office to seek psychiatric exam

“The DA’s office can be a party to this even though this is a civil proceeding, but we obviously are an interested party, so we have given our notice of appearance and expressed our opposition to such a transfer at this time,” she said. “We’ve been actively going through the process of getting another psychiatrist to conduct an examination of him and we have received the (confidential) medical records.”

LaVallee added that Genesee Justice has drafted a letter seeking information about Johnson’s mental state that would be helpful to the court in deciding whether or not Johnson remains dangerously mentally ill. Those interested in responding to this call for information are asked to contact Rosanne DeMare at Genesee Justice, LaVallee said.

“What we’re looking for is information that would be relevant to whether he currently suffers from a dangerous mental illness,” LaVallee explained. “Relevant information would include information that people might have relating to statements that he may have made about his mental illness or his current capacity.”

Continuing, she said that sometimes patients in these facilities will still correspond with individuals (from the area where the crimes were committed).

“Just as importantly, the horrendous incident itself isn’t that long ago," she said. "So, one of the arguments we expect to make … is that it’s just too soon. The brutal murder of one individual and shooting at other responders at the scene; by nature, you’re not going to be cured of your dangerousness within this short a period of time.”

Victim's son says system is partly to blame

Ball’s son, Ryan, 41, on Wednesday said he is “completely against” a possible transfer and said the system failed society by not locking Johnson up prior to the murder.

“It’s unprecedented how fast this is happening. It’s not even the norm that somebody would be set free or healed in that amount of time,” Ryan said. “I think it’s a danger to society to allow that. And the whole reason that he did this in the first place is because he was not put away after doing several things. He should have been put away before this ever happened.”

Ryan said that Johnson’s history includes holding his own family at gunpoint and “nothing was done about it.”

“He (Johnson) is notorious for not taking his medication,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that he got away on a not guilty by reason of insanity; I do not agree with that. It would have been an uphill battle from what doctors were saying (that Johnson was mentally ill). Sane or not, you know right from wrong. You should be able to be prosecuted.”

Ryan also said he believes the proposed transfer has more to do with a lack of bed space at facilities such as the one in Orange County.

“While I’m glad they’re (the DA’s office) going to battle to keep him in there, I don’t believe it has anything to do with him being healed or any saner, but more about not having enough facilities to handle people,” he said. “That’s my personal opinion.”

Ryan lives with his wife and children on the Selden Road property in a new home that he built (after tearing down the old one). He has three sisters, Cherie (Craig) Wessel of Le Roy, Jeanette Keating of Spencerport and Shawna (Ken) Geil of Spencerport.

'Too soon and a lack of bed space'

His mother, Carol Rider, and her husband, John, said Friedman assured them at the time of the verdict that Johnson “wouldn’t see the light of day for many, many years.” This new development, however, has them worried.

“It has only been three years," Carol said. "They’re going to have a hearing to put him in a minimum-security facility and the next step after that is ‘good-bye.’ And that’s mostly because of lack of bed space.” 

“We feel the community needs to know what is going on and have a chance to give their input,” John added.

LaVallee said she wasn’t sure where Johnson would end up should the court rule in his favor to be transferred, but it could be the Rochester Psychiatric Center.

“Hypothetically, someone admitted to a less secure facility would be put into a lockdown unit with certain conditions put on him,” she said. “As he shows his ability to be not dangerous or (ability to be) compliant, then he’ll be given more freedom but also with more conditions. Eventually, yes, the goal is that he’s back in society.”

She said that some people can be rehabilitated and not be a threat to society, but “we don’t want to create a vigilante-type of atmosphere either.”

“He (Johnson) has got to be able to live safely wherever he ends up living,” she said. “This, hopefully, will be years and years down the line, but whenever it happens we want to weigh the understandable grief and outrage of the victim’s family with his own safety as well.”

An administrator at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center said “probably not” when asked if someone would be available to comment on the facility’s petition to the court, mentioned a media contact and then hung up the phone.

August 12, 2010 - 1:12pm

The Genesee County District Attorney's Office has indicted a man locked up in Elmira Correctional Facility for sex crimes he allegedly committed in the City of Batavia back in 2008.

Phillip E. Kroft Jr., 22, is a former city resident. District Attorney Lawrence Friedman alleges that between Sept. 29 and Nov. 10 of 2008, Kroft raped a young victim under the age of 15 on 10 separate occassions. That's just a 43-day period.

The D.A.'s office confirms that the victim was the same each time.

Kroft is now charged with 10 counts of 2nd-Degree Rape. He is currently incarcerated in Elmira on previous convictions in Genesee County. According to the D.A.'s Office, those convictions were for 2nd-Degree Rape, 1st-Degree Sexual Abuse, 3rd-Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, and 4th-Degree Conspiracy.

Subscribe to The Batavian - Local Matters

Copyright © 2008-2022 The Batavian. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service
 

blue button

News Break