Dueling Accusations Cloud DA’s Race
By Matthew Avitabile
DELAWARE COUNTY — The race for Delaware County District Attorney has become clouded with dueling accusations between its two candidates. The Democratic Party did not field a candidate for the position, which will come up for a special election this November. Currently, there is a pitched fight between current Acting District Attorney Shawn Smith and Public Defender Joe Ermeti for the Republican nomination June 27th.
Smith, of Grand Gorge, has been in the role since January after serving as previous DA John Hubbard’s chief assistant district attorney. Smith was appointed by Hubbard to the position after the latter was elected County Judge last November.
Ermeti, of Sidney, has served as public defender since 2019 and previously served as the attorney for the Town of Sidney and the Village of Bainbridge. Mr. Ermeti had previously declined an offer to become acting district attorney.
Upon entering the race, Mr. Ermeti said that “Shawn Smith is a nice young man and has the potential to be a very good lawyer, but I’ve been an attorney almost as long as he’s been alive.”
Mr. Ermeti recently released a letter to potential Republican primary voters stating that he had won cases “from Madison County to Manhattan” and accused Smith of “dirty politics.”
One of the major areas of contention between the two candidates was the signatures needed to make it on the June 27th Republican primary ballot.
Ermeti submitted hundreds of signatures for the ballot, as did Mr. Smith. However, Delaware County received an objection regarding a number of Ermeti’s signatures. An initial review of the signatures found that 136 of Ermeti’s signatures were invalid, leaving him with 25 more than needed to make the ballot.
The final tally meant that Ermeti had submitted 145 invalid signatures and remained 16 above the minimum to make the ballot.
A further review found more than 100 additional details on Ermeti’s petition that appear to have been altered after the fact, such as dates that appear to have been filled in by the same handwriting.
Ermeti said “I would rather lose like a man than win like a coward. I did not challenge his signatures because if I won like that, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. While he was pawing over my signatures, I was at work doing the job I get paid for.”
Smith said, “There were another 100-120 other signatures (or material alterations) that were changed after the signer signed and the witness signed. The Board of Elections ruled that those fell into the fraud category and a Court needed to be the ones to remove them because of how serious of an issue it was.”
“I hate to see someone committing fraud, especially in an election for District Attorney. But, although I definitely do not condone any type of fraud, I didn’t want to be the one to bring it to court since it could look like I was trying to get him off the ballot. I think I did my part by bringing it to the attention of the Board of Elections, and if they decide to take action on it, that is more appropriate. That is what they are there for,” the acting district attorney said.
ADA Accused of Political Statements
Since entering into the role of Acting District Attorney at the start of 2023, Smith hired a number of lawyers to serve as assistant district attorneys.
One that prompted considerable attention was the appointment of David Rikard, the former town judge of Prattsville, Greene County.
Rikard resigned as town justice on January 6, 2023.
Following the resignation, he was accused of “inappropriate demeanor, unauthorized political activity, and poor financial reporting and accounting practices” by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Rikard received the notice on January 26, following his resignation to become ADA. In March, Rikard agreed to never seek judicial office in the future and refused to speak to the commission after his resignation, saying that he was no longer under their jurisdiction because he was out of office.
Mr. Rikard was recorded in what appears to be court sessions speaking ill of Democrats such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Governor Kathy Hochul. In one, Rikard allegedly called Pelosi a “communist.”
Mr. Rikard had also made negative comments on tape regarding the bail reform law passed under former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Smith said that the former judge had been a defense attorney for thirty years but spoke highly of the ADA.
“There was some controversy recently with a new article suggesting that he came here because he was asked to resign as judge. That is 100 percent false. Rikard actually requested my permission to remain a judge while being an ADA. I had no objection to that, as he served as judge in an adjoining county. However, he reached out to the Commission on Judicial Conduct to make sure it was ok with them and it seemed like they may have an issue with it. After hearing they thought it could be an issue, I told him I preferred him to resign as judge if he wanted to take the job as ADA. The last thing I wanted was to get into a situation where some defendant alleged he was doing something inappropriate by being an ADA and a judge in a different county. Rikard agreed and resigned as judge so he could accept this position.”
Smith said that there “was no wrongdoing of any sort. He resigned as judge once he accepted the position here.”
Ermeti said that he was not exactly sure what prompted the state letter, but that “it is my understanding that Mr. Smith was subpoenaed to testify at the hearing that never took place so he would know more about the allegations than I.”
Ermeti’s Legal Past
The Public Defender has also built an extensive legal history, both in 30 years as an attorney and in and out of court in other capacities.
Ermeti was arrested in 2011 on charges of third-degree assault. The Daily Star reported at the time that there were no details publicly available. Mr. Ermeti has been arrested on two other occasions, being accused of menacing and regarding a domestic situation.
However, a recent lawsuit has gained far more attention. The public defender owns Ermeti’s Community Lounge in Sidney.
The bar allegedly served Courtni Baker, 32, excessive alcohol on February 15th. Baker allegedly left the bar and struck a 14-year-old girl, Anielle “AK” McEwan-Lominicki, leaving her seriously injured.
Baker blew a .24 BAC, three times the legal limit, by Sidney Police following the accident. The police report surrounding the event shows that Baker began drinking at the establishment around 11 am.
The lawsuit accuses Ermeti, as the bar’s owner, of recklessness and negligence because the establishment allegedly continued to serve Baker after visible intoxication. According to McEwan-Lominicki’s family, Baker had bloodshot eyes and could not walk properly, yet was served the additional alcohol.
A .24 BAC requires approximately 12 drinks, though the time between leaving the bar, the accident, and the field sobriety test likely meant that the number was higher. Serving alcohol in such a manner is illegal by New York State law.
A Freedom of Information (FOIL) request revealed five cases so far in 2023 of defendants accused of drinking and driving stating that they left the same bar before driving.
The accident left McEwan-Lominicki seriously wounded and with potential permanent trauma. She spent seven weeks in a children’s hospital in Syracuse recovering from the injuries, including several weeks in a medically-induced coma.
Baker faces 10 charges, including vehicular assault, aggravated assault, and escape. She pled not guilty to all charges.
The resulting crash and aftermath resulted in a strong community reaction, including the AK Strong movement among all 1,100 students of Sidney Central School.
According to information from the Delaware County District Attorney’s office and released by WBGH in Binghamton, school bus footage showed Baker leaving the scene “then returning and removing the victim’s book bag and a shoe.”
The eighth-grader was found by a Sidney Police Officer lying face down and unresponsive.
The driver allegedly attempted to escape police custody “by slipping out of her handcuffs at the Sidney Police Station and in the back of a patrol car,” according to WBGH.
Baker was remanded to Delaware County Jail on $100,000 cash bail. Ermeti said that “my heart goes out to the victim and her family. I pray for them every single day” and told WBGH and her family and questioned “whether Baker did all of her drinking at his bar.”
Smith said, “I am aware that the family of the victim has included Ermeti’s bar in the lawsuit as a result of the defendant being over-served there. I believe that the State Liquor Authority is conducting an investigation into routinely overserving patrons, and that is what resulted in the bar being closed down.”
“I don’t think Joe intended to hurt anyone, but there are extreme risks associated with drunk driving. If his bar is overserving people, that is a serious issue. I work hard to make sure that all drunk drivers are held accountable so that they realize the serious nature of the crime. Anyone who drives drunk risks their own life, the life of other drivers, and pedestrians.
“Since January of this year, we have had 4 people killed by drunk drivers in our County and as many others seriously injured,” he said.