CANTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - Can a lawyer who is also a county legislator still defend people in court? That’s the question in St. Lawrence County. The answer could have statewide impact.
David Haggard is known for defending high-profile criminal defendants in court. But you won’t see him doing it now because he also has a job as a part-time county legislator.
“Haggard, even prior to assuming the seat as a legislative member had concerns because there had been an advisory opinion issued back in the 90s that suggested that a part-time legislator couldn’t handle criminal cases,” said St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button.
So Haggard asked the county ethics board about any possible conflicts of interest. They gave him the green light to handle criminal cases, as long as he recused himself from certain legislative votes. But the issue was later revisited by County Court Judge Jerome Richards, according to a letter written by County Attorney Stephen Button. So Haggard has stopped taking criminal cases.
“We are now seeking a separate opinion from the New York State Attorney General’s Office,” Button said.
Previous opinions from the State Bar Association point out a county legislator controls budgets and hiring for the District Attorney and Sheriff’s office. They says jousting with those same people in court could raise suspicions.
When 7News reporter Keith Benman asked Haggard about this, Haggard referred him to County Attorney Button. There’s a belief there are other lawyers in the state practicing criminal law and serving as county legislators.
“This would be an impact across the state if an opinion is rendered indicating that a part-time legislator is not permitted to practice criminal law in the county in which they are elected as a part-time legislator," Button said.
One other legislator, Henry Leader, representing Gouverneur and Depeyster, also practices some criminal law. He also is declining to do that for now.