Same candidates, same bitterness in repeat GOP primary for Broome County district attorney
Republican voters in Broome County may have a sense of déjà ahead of Tuesday’s primary for district attorney. The race is highlighting a schism between Broome County Republicans.
Michael Korchak and Paul Battisti first faced off in 2019’s Republican Primary for Broome County district attorney. Battisti won that race, but lost in the general election when Korchak decided to run as a Libertarian. This time, the candidates are the same, and so is the bitterness between their campaigns.
Battisti, a defense attorney from Kirkwood, has vocally attacked Korchak, alleging that his management of the office has hurt morale and led to a disproportionate number of case dismissals.
"I'll make sure that the brave men and women of law enforcement don't see their work go to waste, because the district attorney's office doesn't prosecute, doesn't even evaluate their case, or in so many cases, not even read the police report,” Battisti said at a press conference last month.
Korchak flatly refutes Battisti’s claim, saying Battisti is mischaracterizing the data.
"Cases are not being dismissed,” Korchak said in an exchange on the topic during a debate on WSKG News last week. “Within every criminal case there are multiple charges. The defendant pleads guilty to one charge in that case, goes to prison and the remaining ones are dismissed. That's the same in every DA's office."
Data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) show that the percentage of top felony charges unfavorably dismissed in Broome County last year, is pretty comparable to the state average.
In 2022, roughly 30 percent of those charges were dismissed statewide compared to 31 percent in Broome County for the same year. That rate has increased significantly though, both statewide and in Broome County since 2018. Only 11 percent of top felony charges were dismissed unfavorably in Broome County in 2018, compared to 18 percent statewide.
It’s also noteworthy that changes to the state’s bail and discovery laws may have impacted those figures. These dismissals also don’t include charges dismissed as adjournments contemplating dismissal. That’s when prosecutors agree to effectively drop a charge after a certain amount of time if a defendant doesn’t get into any further legal trouble during that period.
Prior to taking over as district attorney, Korchak worked as a senior assistant district attorney in Broome County first from 1996 to 2007 and again from 2016 to 2020.
Korchak’s time in office hasn’t come without some missteps and public gaffes. After a man from Conklin killed 10 people at a Tops in Buffalo last year, WSKG asked Korchak whether he considered the act domestic terrorism given the shooter’s racist motivations.
“I’m from downstate,” Korchak replied. “Terrorism is flying planes into buildings. This is just murder as far as I’m concerned.”
He later walked back that comment and emphasized that law enforcement agencies did everything within their legal power when the shooter had been flagged by a teacher at his school for making a threatening remark the year prior.
After the shooting, state lawmakers passed legislation making it easier for prosecutors to pursue extreme risk protection orders or ERPOs. This allows authorities, health providers and school officials to ask a court to take away someone’s firearms if they’re deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
Korchak said he and other district attorneys around the state have been pursuing more ERPOs since the change. Governor Kathy Hochul said just last week that ERPO applications have increased over 600 percent since last year.
Regardless of Korchak’s record, it’s pretty clear that the higher-ups in Broome County’s Republican establishment were with Battisti from the start. While the party committee itself isn’t technically endorsing in the race, Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham, County Legislature Chair Dan Reynolds, and Sheriff Fred Akshar were all early supporters of Battisti.
Battisti said he enjoys the support of GOP officials in Broome County, and denies that it could cloud his judgment should he find himself in a situation where he may have to pursue charges against them.
“You have an ethical obligation. If at any point in time, doing my job, I felt that I could not ethically carry out my obligations, I would ask for a special prosecutor,” Battisti said.
That’s not a farfetched reality in Broome County, where former Republican District Attorney Steve Cornwell pleaded guilty to corruption charges earlier this year. Those charges were presented to a grand jury under Korchak’s administration, something he uses as an example that his independence from party leaders is critical.
“There has to be checks and balances within the criminal justice system, because there are times when the district attorney has to do a corruption investigation. I have done that,” Korchak said.
For Battisti, Tuesday’s primary isn’t necessarily the end of the line. Battisti secured the Conservative Party’s endorsement and will be able to appear on their ballot line in the general election even if he loses the Republican primary. Still, he won’t say if he’ll take that page out of Korchak’s 2019 playbook.
“We would reevaluate that,” Battisti said. “That’s not a question I can answer right now.”
For Korchak though, Tuesday is make or break if he wants to proceed into the general election. The time period to secure an independent line has passed.