Howard, Sansone both seek to succeed Cardone as DA

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 June 2024 at 4:14 pm

County will have new district attorney for first time in 33 years

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Republican Primary for district attorney on Tuesday is a matchup between Susan Howard and John Sansone.

ALBION – For the first time in 33 years, Orleans County will have a change in district attorney on Jan. 1. Joe Cardone has served as the county’s top prosecutor since 1992. He is retiring on Dec. 31.

On Tuesday, two of his assistant DAs will battle for the Republican line. John Sansone was endorsed by the Republican Party Committee, but Susan Howard forced a GOP primary. She has been endorsed by the Conservative Party.

Cardone has stayed out of the race on who will be his successor, opting not to pick a side.

Both candidates oppose state legislation that they said benefits criminals, such as bail reform where judges cannot set cash bail on some non-qualifying offenses. The candidates want judges to have more discretion in setting bail.

Susan Howard, 57, touts her lifelong roots in Orleans County. Sansone, also 57, recently moved to Holley. He is a native Lockport resident but has worked for more than two decades in the county as a municipal attorney. He worked as an assistant public defender beginning in 1998 and then joined the District Attorney’s Office as an assistant DA in 2007.

“When I became an assistant DA it changed my life,” Sansone said in an interview last week at Hoag Library. “As an ADA you represent the People of the State of New York.”

Sansone also has prosecuted cases in Niagara County since 2001 as an assistant county attorney doing cases with juvenile delinquents.

Sansone was on a pre-med track at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, earning a degree in biology. He was working as a reporter at the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, covering the crime beat and the Niagara County Legislature.

He was always interested in being a lawyer, and decided to follow that passion, rather than pursuing medical school. He earned his law degree at Ohio Northern University and joined a Lockport law firm as a criminal defense lawyer in 1995. He encountered Cardone in the early part of Sansone’s career, and Cardone convinced him to join the Orleans County DA’s office as an assistant.

Sansone would leave the Lockport law firm, and opened his own law office. He said he didn’t shy away from trials, and that reputation has served him well. As a prosecutor, he said defendants know he won’t accept delays or try to avoid the added time and effort in a trial.

John Sansone is shown outside Hoag Library in Albion. He has worked as an assistant DA in the county since 2007.

As a criminal defense lawyer, on the other side, prosecutors knew they had to have a very strong case if they wanted to go to trial or pursue a plea with a long sentence. His experience as a defense attorney also helps him see potential holes in the prosecutor’s case. He said it would help him present more thorough cases to the grand jury.

Sansone said the position as DA is about holding people accountable for their actions. That doesn’t always mean the longest prison sentence.

In some cases, he supports mandated anger management counseling, and drug and addiction treatment.

“You can be the hammer to get them help,” he said.

But someone who repeatedly breaks the law, putting others in danger, needs to face punishment, Sansone said.

“If people are breaking into garages and stealing others’ property, you need to send a message it won’t be taken lightly,” Sansone said. “The DA position is a very crucial position. The people need the best champion for justice. I will do what I can to hold people accountable.”

Howard didn’t go to law school until she was 33. Before that she was a paralegal and a caseworker with the Department of Social Services.

Her father, the late Richard Schult, owned the Lakeland restaurant at Point Breeze. He also worked at Kodak and flipped houses. He often reached out to a lawyer for advice.

Howard said she wanted to be that person who could help people through a  problem. It wasn’t until she did an internship at the DA’s Office that she turned her attention to being a prosecutor. After that experience in 2000, she said she found her passion as a lawyer.

“I was hooked,” she said. “It was exciting. I felt every day we touched people’s lives.”

Howard said she wants to see the office continue to be welcoming to interns. Some years there are as many as three. She said the county needs more attorneys, and she wants to facilitate a great learning experience for them through the DA’s Office.

Howard became a lawyer in 2004, and wanted to work in Orleans County, but there weren’t any positions open at that time. She worked a year in the Niagara County DA’s Office before coming back to Orleans in 2005.

Susan Howard, shown inside Hoag Library, has been an assistant district attorney in the county since 2005, and the first assistant DA since 2011.

In 2011, a full-time assistant DA position was created and Howard took the job. She has been there since. She has run the traffic diversion program since it was created in 2011. It allows some drivers to resolve tickets easily without incurring a court appearance, points on a license or a hike in insurance premiums. It also keeps more of the ticket revenue locally. Howard said the program recently passed the $2 million mark for keeping revenue in the county rather than sent to the state. The traffic diversion program works with about 400 to 500 people a year.

Howard also represents the DA’s Office for misdemeanors and felonies at Town Courts in Albion (in cases with Justice Gary Moore), Carlton and Gaines. The role means she prosecutes the crimes in the state prisons, and also the welfare fraud cases.

She also has handled cases since 2011 at the County Court level, doing indictments and trials. She also does some of the family court prosecutions for juvenile delinquents, where the focus is on helping the families.

“I feel like I’ve been working at this all my law career,” she said about her experience in the DA’s Office. “This is my community. No one will work harder for them.”

Sansone, as assistant DA, is assigned to cases that originate in Barre and Shelby. He also handles some of the cases at the county court level. He also has worked as the municipal attorney for the Village of Holley, and towns of Murray, Clarendon and Kendall.

Howard is vice president of the Orleans County Bar Association and a member of the District Attorneys Association of New York. From the DA Association, she said district attorneys are pressing state legislators to change bail reform and discovery laws. The DAs want more crimes to be considered “qualifying crimes” and eligible for bail, Howard said.

With discovery laws, the association was able to successfully advocate for more time to turn over evidence to the defense lawyers. Howard said the time frames were not realistic and prosecutors and law enforcement agencies still could use more time to process body cam video and other evidence.

She said working collaboratively is the best chance for meaningful change.

“This job is all about leadership and relationships,” she said. “You have to come together and work with other people.”

Both candidates have amassed official support in their campaigns. Sansone has the backing of Sheriff Chris Bourke, the union representing deputies, and a union representing dispatchers and corrections officers. The Holley mayor and town supervisors in Clarendon, Murray and Kendall all back him, saying he has been an advocate for those communities as the municipal attorney.

Howard has the endorsement of retired County Court Judge Jim Punch, who was also a district attorney. Other law enforcement officials have sent letters to the editor in support of her, and so has current Crime Victims Advocate Michelle Werth.

Voting on Tuesday is from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the 10 towns in the county.