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Record attacked

October 21, 2019 12:06 pm

To the editor:

On behalf of candidate Eugene Keeler, Democratic Chairman Keith Kanaga attacks my record in his Oct. 19 letter.

In their attack, they shamefully libeled recently deceased Sheriff Paul Proper, the New York State Police, twelve jurors, and, worst of all, our two County Judges. Their response demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of how the criminal justice system works.

Mr. Kanaga states that the Sheriff and NYS Police are responsible for the jury’s verdict in, perhaps, the most well known criminal trial in Columbia County history, a case then DA Keeler prosecuted. Without repeating their insults about these dedicated police officers, suffice it to say that Eugene Keeler and Kanaga ignore a most basic principle of criminal justice in New York State — “District Attorneys, of course, retain the ultimate, nondelegable responsibility for prosecuting all crimes and offenses, in the county.” (see, People v. Van Sickle, 13 N.Y.2d 61, 62–63, 242 N.Y.S.2d 34, 192 N.E.2d 9). People v. Soddano, 86 N.Y.2d 727, 728, 655 N.E.2d 161, 162 (1995) (emphasis added). This responsibility includes the supervision of all aspects of the investigation and prosecution of crime. It was in this failure to supervise that then DA Keeler tragically failed.

In the process of unfairly criticizing these dedicated police officers, Eugene Keeler and Kanaga also violate the time-honored principle of never criticizing a jury’s verdict. This is so because, if the jury’s verdict was correct, there’d be no reason to lambaste the police!

However, that was not enough for these critics. They go on to cite a statistic, the source and accuracy of which is unknown, which explicitly claims that criminal defendants in Columbia County are sentenced according to their race. Besides being an outrageously false libel, Eugene Keeler and Kanaga ignorantly imply that the DA sentences defendants.

The elementary truth is that judges impose sentences. Indeed, here in Columbia County, trusting our Judges without reservation, it has been my practice to make sure they have all relevant information in cases and then to defer to their sound discretion in imposing sentence.

Kanaga and Eugene Keeler should leave Judges Koweek and Nichols, the state police and jurors out of their attacks. Moreover they should not

attack and stain the memory of Paul Proper, the greatest public servant Columbia County has had in my lifetime.

Eugene Keeler is simply unqualified to be our District Attorney. He hasn’t been in a courtroom in over 10 years, routinely mishandled cases in his single term as DA in the 1980’s and was repeatedly removed from cases representing criminal defendants for “ineffective assistance of counsel.” It is no wonder why Mr. Kananga and Mr. Keeler have refused my invitation to debate these facts. Instead, they flail away with false allegations.

Paul Czajka


Paul Czajka chooses to misrepresent Kanaga’s description of the Wyley Gates case as a libel of Sheriff Proper and of the NY State Police, despite national coverage of errors in their obtaining a ‘confession’ and various other evidence. He claims that the DA is responsible for “supervision of all aspects of the investigation” and that lack of supervision by the DA excuses poor police work. Do we honor Sheriff Proper’s memory by saying he needed better supervision?

Similarly, Czajka claims that judges are solely responsible for differences in sentencing due to race. Mr. Czajka ignores the fact that over 90% of his convictions are plea bargained, meaning he has the authority to charge a lesser degree of felony or even to drop some charges, and thus lower potential sentences. The judge could reject a plea bargain, but they seldom do. Since judges are indeed responsible for sentencing, should we blame the judge for any effects of bias in the DA’s bargaining a second-degree felony down to a third-degree felony? Like blaming the DA for errors by the police?

The source of Kanaga’s statistics estimating how differently whites and blacks arrested for a felony are sentenced is NYS Arrests and Prison Sentences by Race/Ethnicity from the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services.