• Rich Klein

EDITORIAL

A few minutes ago, Sullivan Assistant District Attorney Rachel Kesten concluded an argument at the Appellate Division, Third Department to prevent a violent convicted felon from receiving a reduced sentence or having his plea vacated.


Legislature Chair Rob Doherty should have been there or watched the live stream.

Maybe then he'd understand the real demands made on Sullivan's Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) -especially when there are just four of them left after starting out 2021 with eight.


What's also interesting is that Kesten was only admitted to the bar two years ago, making her one of the most or the most junior ADA in Sullivan.


Yet there she was in the last hour facing off against an experienced appellate attorney and was also peppered with tough legal questions by the five seasoned judges of the Appellate Division, Third Department.


In most of these appellate cases, former District Attorney Jim Farrell would argue them himself because you want your most seasoned prosecutor available. Similarly, DA Meagan Galligan, when she was chief assistant DA, would appear before the Third Department. We don't know why Galligan didn't argue the case, but it could be surmised she is stretched very thin with time and resources.


So for Doherty to play hardball with Galligan's office over requested raises for her around-the-clock attorneys is deplorable.


All DA's and their ADA's in New York State are working harder than ever due to bail reform, discovery reform and police reform. Galligan rightly pointed out last week that it takes many hours to review police body cam footage (currently utilized by Troop F of the State Police) that is necessary for justice to be achieved.


When you add to the mix the time it takes to prepare for, travel and deliver arguments at the Appellate Division, along with regular night court coverage in Sullivan's towns and villages, it's a no brainer that our ADA's are vastly underpaid.


We're hearing from a source today that Galligan met privately with Doherty and Legislator George Conklin III regarding the salary impasse. (The starting salary for a freshman Sullivan ADA is $53,000).


We hope that a resolution is before the Legislature very soon that raises the starting salary of a Sullivan ADA to at least $65,000, which makes it more competitive with neighboring counties and other counties in the state that have the same number of residents.


Former ADAs Kristen Hackett and Robert Zangla have joined the County Attorney's Office. ADA Leigh Wellington departed this year for the Westchester County DA office and one other unnamed ADA has recently departed.


Not only has Galligan lost ADAs, these were among the most senior ADAs in the office.


You can't win a baseball game with four or five players, including some in their rookie years.

Similarly, Sullivan will lose its battle against violent crime if Doherty does not take immediate action to increase starting salaries and help get the DA's office back to a staff of eight ADAs.


At the same time, Galligan needs to figure out why she has lost senior ADAs, including Zangla, who reportedly took a pay CUT of about $15,000 to join the County Attorney's Office.


Yes, a lot of these problems recruiting and maintaining ADAs is about the money.


But there's also a leadership and morale problem that needs to be fixed.


Let's hope that Galligan has the humility to improve what's not working in her management style behind closed doors so people will want to work for her.


And while she's seeking to replace the ADAs who departed, it's long overdue for a person of color to fill at least one of those positions.

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