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LOCKPORT – Demands for hearings by applicants for Social Services benefits in Niagara County have increased so much that the department has had to hire an attorney exclusively to handle the caseload.

Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino said last week that the hiring of David M. Heim, at a part-time salary of $40,000 a year, was included in this year’s county budget as a response to the demand for “fair hearings,” as they are called in state law.

Restaino said that nearly 1,000 more people applied for welfare, Medicaid, food stamps or home energy assistance in 2012 than in 2011. And in 2011, the number of applicants was 450 more than in 2010.

Not all of the applicants are approved, and those who are denied benefits may demand a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Heim’s hiring comes at the same time as a shuffle of attorneys within the county government.

Theodore W. Janese III, who had been an assistant county attorney, is joining Social Services as a part-timer assigned to litigate child support cases.

Janese said he was interested in the child support job because it offers a more fixed schedule than working in the County Attorney’s Office.

He succeeds Angela Stamm-Phillips, who left Social Services to accept an appointment as deputy clerk of Niagara County Surrogate’s Court.

To replace Janese, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg hired Brian D. Seaman away from the District Attorney’s Office.

“If I can get someone with his trial experience, why wouldn’t I want that in my office?” Joerg said.

Seaman, who worked as a prosecutor for six years, said he was interested in making the move because it allows him to open a private law practice, which full-time prosecutors are not allowed to do.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com