In years past, Frank A. Sedita III was a popular prosecutor among street cops who admired his meticulous approach in the courtroom, but his popularity among that group has waned since he became the county’s top law enforcement official.
Their complaint about Sedita – now in his second term as Erie County district attorney – is that he cherry-picks cases that guarantee convictions. But none will go on the record about their complaints, because their departments depend on Sedita’s office to prosecute their cases.
Despite this criticism from local police, Sedita has been recognized by his peers for his work. He was recently named Outstanding Prosecutor by the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association.
Sedita said he realizes some of his decisions upset police and families of crime victims, but he told The News that his decisions are based on the law, not on desire for popularity.
He also noted that critics of the nation’s criminal courts have claimed that unscrupulous prosecutors can manipulate a grand jury into indicting “a ham sandwich.”
“I will not engineer a ham-sandwich indictment in order to stick it to a suspect who won’t cooperate, nor will I do so to avoid criticism or controversy,” Sedita said. “To do otherwise might be more convenient and make me more popular, but it is also unlawful and unethical.”
On some high-profile homicide cases, Sedita has refused to prosecute or has taken extended periods of time before moving forward, to the exasperation of some in law enforcement.
Last fall, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office took over from Sedita’s office on a 34-year-old cold case murder. State prosecutors charged Michael Rodriguez, 59, with killing his wife, Patti Rodriguez, leaving her body with 108 stab wounds in a Lackawanna cemetery on Good Friday, April 13, 1979. The case has not yet gone to trial.
After Sedita’s office refused to move forward with the case, the Lackawanna police chief in 2009 asked state police to re-examine the case and presented evidence to Schneiderman.
Sedita offered to assist the attorney general in prosecuting Rodriguez.
“It’s not unusual that professional prosecutors sometimes disagree with police officers and sometimes in their judgments on how strong or how weak a case is,” Sedita said at the time Rodriguez was charged.
Sedita, 52, has been with the District Attorney’s Office for 26 years and even the police who criticize him as district attorney have praised him for his courtroom presence.
His disagreements with police have never hurt him on Election Day. Sedita was first elected as the county’s chief prosecutor in 2008. And when he ran for re-election in 2012, he had the backing of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Sedita also has strong support from colleagues throughout the state. In February, Sedita was named the state’s 2014 outstanding prosecutor by the Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association at the association’s annual meeting in New York City. He also was recognized as the state’s top prosecutor in 2006 by the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, and he is that organization’s president-elect.