CANANDAIGUA — In a 10-page memo to the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo has expressed concern about the size of the Public Defender’s Office.
In the Aug. 13 memo, which was received by every member of the board, Tantillo said the staffing proposal put together by Public Defender Thomas Kidera is similar to the size of the District Attorney’s Office, which Tantillo said has a bigger workload.
“His proposal essentially would establish a Public Defender’s Office that would effectively have more resources than the District Attorney’s Office, despite the District Attorney’s Office far larger caseload and significant additional responsibilities,” Tantillo wrote. “Because this proposal could have an extremely dramatic impact on the operations of my office, I am forwarding this memo to you to explain, in greater detail, my concerns.”
Kidera did not return several calls seeking comment on Tantillo’s memo.
Tantillo included several charts, a staffing comparison between the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices among them. That comparison shows 10 attorneys in the DA’s office and nine in the PD’s office.
In the chart, Tantillo said the DA’s office handles 100 percent of the criminal cases in the county, while the Public Defender’s office would handle an estimated 65 percent.
“It is not my intent to challenge or question Mr. Kidera’s staffing needs,” Tantillo wrote. “However, it is definitely my position that, whatever staffing level is ultimately determined to be appropriate for the Public Defender’s Office, fundamental fairness mandates that the resources accorded to the District Attorney’s Office should be about 33 percent greater.”
Tantillo also said his office handles grand jury presentations, litigation of appeals, litigation of violations and litigation of traffic offenses, all things that wouldn’t be handled by the Public Defender’s Office. Those responsibilities, according to the memo, would be handled by private attorneys retained at public cost.
Tantillo also provided supervisors with a chart showing staffing in Public Defender offices in counties of similar size. In the comparison, Ontario County would have nine public defenders for a population of 106,000 people — more than St. Lawrence County (six public defenders, 110,000 people) and Jefferson County (seven public defenders, 119,000 people).
Kidera was hired as the county’s first public defender last October after the Board of Supervisors approved switching from its longtime assigned-counsel program to a Public Defender’s office.
Supervisor Donald Ninestine, D-city of Geneva, who was chairman of the committee that recommended creating a Public Defender’s office, said he sees the memo as part of a “natural conflict” between a district attorney and public defender.
“You’re talking about two departments that are inevitably going to knock heads and be on opposite sides of the fence,” Ninestine said. “I’m certainly a supporter of Mike Tantillo as DA. He’s done a wonderful job for the county.”
Contacted by phone last week, Tantillo said he stood by the memo.
“My main concern is making sure the county doesn’t provide greater resources to the office charged with defending people with crimes than the office responsible for prosecuting those crimes,” he said.