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September 14, 2012

 

Briggs calls for end to Dayton probe

Majority leader sends Legislature resolution that would drop criminal inquiry

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County Majority Leader Susan Briggs spearheaded an attempt Thursday to put an end to an investigation of former Public Defender Keith Dayton, saying the county should not waste any more time or money on the matter.
Briggs (R-Cortlandville) crafted a motion at the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting, calling for District Attorney Mark Suben to drop any further action on the investigation into Dayton. The matter was referred to the district attorney by county leaders after an investigation by Binghamton attorney Mike Surowka.
Thursday’s resolution also seeks to have the county pay the $17,000 in accrued vacation time Dayton seeks in a lawsuit he brought against the county July 26.
The resolution also asks the county to drop the counterclaim against Dayton in which the county seeks $25,000 from him for allegedly having worked outside jobs on county time.
The resolution passed by a 5-3 vote. Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville), Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) and Mike Park (R-Homer) were opposed. Voting with Briggs were JPS committee members Dick Bushnell (D-Ward 5), Amy Cobb (D-Ward 3), John Natoli (R-8th Ward) and Gordon Wheelock (R-Homer).
The full Legislature will vote on the resolution Sept. 27.
Dayton was not reappointed in January and the Legislature launched an investigation into allegations of his misconduct.
In July, Surowka issued his report which found Dayton had worked outside jobs on county time and did not properly accounted for hours worked. The special investigative committee, chaired by Whitney, forwarded the report onto Suben.
But Suben sought a special prosecutor because Dayton is his Republican opponent in the upcoming district attorney election.
It is in unclear what will now become of the investigation.
Suben issued a news release shortly after Thursday’s meeting announcing that Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson was appointed on Tuesday to take over the investigation.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell, with whom Dayton has a past of legal disagreements, appointed Wilkinson, though it was not clear by press time how it came to land in Campbell’s hands.
Dayton sued former Legislature Chairman Jack Williams in 2009 for his acquisition of Family Court documents and planned to pursue with the Office of Court Administration Campbell’s release of those normally secret court records.
That matter never proceeded but Dayton said the investigation into him seemed to kick off after he publicly announced his plans to take that course of action against Campbell.
Suben said he followed proper protocol for seeking a special prosecutor, submitting the application to the acting County Court Chief Clerk, Laurie Case.
Suben said if the Legislature votes to pass the resolution from the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and ask for that investigation to be halted, it would now have to take up the matter with Wilkinson since he received an order from Judge Campbell to turn the matter over to her.
But Thursday, Briggs said she just wants the entire matter to come to a close.
She faulted Surowka’s report, calling its findings “shaky at best.” She faulted Surowka for not citing an exact figure that Dayton’s outside employment allegedly cost the county and said the $25,000 figure cited in the counterclaim seemed pulled from the air. She faulted County Attorney Ed Purser for filing the counterclaim Aug. 29 without Legislative approval to do so, something Purser said at Thursday’s meeting he did because he “did not have time” to get that approval.
“I think the whole process is suspicious from the very beginning because these issues arose a year ago in executive session of the JPS Committee where alleged misconduct was brought forth regarding Keith Dayton,” Briggs said. She said at that time the committee was advised by Surowka not to take action and simply not reappoint Dayton at the end of the year.
“So there is a real issue there that if public officials knew of misconduct and didn’t bring it forth to the entire Legislature, that is a dereliction of duties and that’s an issue,” Briggs said.
Briggs and Legislator John Natoli (R-8th Ward) said they plan to bring to the county Ethics Board, the whole matter of the investigation into Dayton, starting last July when they say allegations of misconduct first arose.
But Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) said he does not want the matter dropped. Park said the message needs to be sent to department heads that misconduct will not be tolerated.
“The investigation was clear, ... there was misdoing and it needs to be settled once and for all,” Park said, adding there is a lot of money at stake.

 

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