A look back at St. Lawrence County DA Rain's controversial three years, now that she has announced she won't seek re-election
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- Following a checkered term, embattled Republican St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain will not seek re-election.
She revealed her plans last Thursday just after former Chief Assistant District Attorney David Haggard, a Democrat, announced that he intends to run for the position in the November elections.Since being elected in 2013 as St. Lawrence County’s top prosecutor, she has made state and national headlines and even prompted some state officials to call for legislation to ensure more oversight of district attorneys.
Rain has had numerous grievances filed against her that remained under investigation for more than a year, and was even asked to resign by the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators. She subpoenaed several county officials in her first year in office, accusing them of wrongdoing, but never convened a grand jury to bring indictments.
She took office after beating former Democratic District Attorney Nicole Duvé on promises to bring charges against Potsdam soccer coach Oral ‘Nick’ Hillary for the 2011 murder of Potsdam schoolboy Garrett Phillips. During her campaign, she spoke repeatedly with the murder victim’s extended family and accused Duvé of failing to bring justice to the county.
During the campaign, she also fought off allegations by Duve who pointed out that Rain had held four jobs in three counties in the five years running up to the election. Prior to running for district attorney, Rain had served as the St. Lawrence County public defender, but was stripped of her administrative power and placed on administrative leave before resigning from that position.
It was also revealed during the campaign that Rain had been sued by a former police officer for failing to follow required procedures in a civil action and had more than 20 ethical violations filed against her by an Oswego County judge.
Despite the allegations brought forward during the campaign, Rain was victorious in the election, beating her opponent by about 1,000 votes. She assumed the position in January of 2014.
In May of 2014, Rain made good on her promise to press charges against Hillary. But in October, the murder indictment was thrown out after Judge Jerome Richards ruled Rain had used prejudicial questioning of witnesses that might have unduly influenced the grand jurors.
Rain’s first year was a busy one. She established a policy that her office would prosecute drunk and drugged drivers to the fullest extent of the law. Under her administration, only first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .1 percent or less could have their charges reduced.
Not long after, Rain launched an investigation into county expenditures and procedures that ordered at least six county officials to appear in court for a grand jury investigation.
The subpoena issued to former county Administrator Karen St. Hilaire ordered the county to compile 10 years of information relating to asset forfeiture and equitable sharing accounts. St. Hilaire called the request “perplexing.”
The subpoena called for all reports, papers, invoices, vouchers, order forms, account transfers, letters written and electronic, emails, texts, downloads, accounting bookkeeping documents, logs, bank records, statements, audit reports and email searches. St. Hilaire said the massive undertaking brought county work to a halt. No charges were filed against St. Hilaire or other county officials relating to the investigation.
In November, Rain convened a second grand jury to re-indict Hillary for the murder of Phillips and in January of 2015 Hillary was charged with second-degree murder. The case prompted a trial that drew national attention and coverage from a variety of national television news stations and the New York Times.
By December of 2014 Rain was allegedly being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after she was accused of using a county jail inmate as an agent of her office to secure a confession from another inmate. However, the FBI refused to confirm or deny if she was truly being investigated.
To date, Rain has not faced charges related to that incident.
In January of 2015, Rain fired an assistant district attorney named Brenna Ryan, who later filed a notice of claim against Rain. Ryan accused her of using foul language, making sexually explicit comments and showing favoritism toward male employees. Despite the notice of claim, no formal suit was brought against Rain.
In February of 2015, Hillary pled not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder.
In her second year, Rain struggled to staff her office as several assistant district attorneys left.
In August, Rain issued a letter to town justices informing them that she would not be sending prosecutors to local courts after St. Lawrence County legislators voted against filling a vacancy in her office. At the time, Republican Joseph Lighfoot, who was chairman of the county Board of Legislators at the time, called the policy “draconian” and feared it would cause backups in local courts and slow down the legal system.
In September, Assistant District Attorney Michael Gebo resigned after he accepted blame for failing to file appellate briefs. Gebo had apparently had his eye on the public defender position, which was vacant. At the time, Rain said county Attorney Steven Button had offered Gebo the job, but Button denied the claim.
In March of 2015, then-Chief Assistant District Attorney David Haggard resigned after serving under Rain for two years. Within a month of his resignation, Haggard said Rain had “indicated” to him “she intended to use the grand jury to investigate individuals she disliked,” while he worked as a county prosecutor.
The list of names offered by Haggard includes several county officials including county Attorney Stephen Button, former county administrator Karen St. Hilaire, and Public Defender Stephen Ballan among others. Haggard recently resigned from the prosecutor’s office, where he served as the chief assistant district attorney.
In April of 2016, St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards recused himself from all criminal cases involving Rain after he submitted a letter of complaint to the Committee on Professional Standards regarding her.
Since his recusal, Franklin County Judge Derek Champagne has handled the bulk of St. Lawrence County’s criminal cases.
According to reports, the complaint submitted by Richards involved Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Jirik, who allegedly prosecuted a felony trial in county court without having passed the state bar exam. Jirik eventually left the district attorney’s office.
Around the same time, Rain accused Attorney Edward Narrow and David Haggard of collusion. Grievance complaints against Rain are believed to have been filed by Narrow and Haggard, but such documents have not been made public. It’s also believed that Rain filed complaints against Narrow, Haggard and Richards, but again, the documents are not public.
By April of 2016, Rain was at odds with the majority of county legislators. The legislators passed a “no confidence” resolution and called on Gov. Andrew M. Coumo to launch an investigation to determine if Rain possessed “the demeanor, the ethical fitness and requisite judgmental ability and the integrity needed to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of a duly elected district attorney, and to make a determination of whether or not there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes may have been committed by the district attorney."
In June of 2016, St. Lawrence County’s ongoing problems with the district attorney’s office drew attention from Sen. John DeFrancisco, who called for legislation that would create a body to investigate and oversee claims made against district attorneys.
“St. Lawrence County is just a recent example of why this bill is needed. It’s reprehensible that a law student without a license was able to bring a felony case to the court.” He said.
Around the same time, former county Administrator St. Hilaire offered scathing testimony at an Albany hearing led by DeFranciso. St. Hilaire said that during Rain’s time as public defender there were numerous complaints of harassment, sexual harassment, failure to discharge her duties, and abuse of staff.
St. Hilaire said she filed a complaint with the Committee on Professional Standards detailing incidents and accusing Rain of unethical and potentially illegal actions. She requested an investigation but was directed to the Public Integrity Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. St. Hilaire said she submitted a letter to the bureau but is aware of no action being taken.
In September 2016, jury selection for the Hillary murder trial was underway, but that ended when his attorneys asked for and were granted a bench trial instead. Over the next few weeks, the trial played out drawing national attention.
Twice during the proceedings, the defense called for mistrials, but those requests were denied by Judge Felix Catena, who eventually acquitted Hillary of the murder charge. In interviews following the trial, Rain stated there would be no further investigation, because she believed Hillary was the killer.
In October 2016, the District Attorney’s Association of New York President Thomas Zugibe issued letters to Chief Attorney Monica Duffy at the Third Department Committee on Professional Standards and Justice Karen Peters of the Third Judicial Department. The letters called for an expedited investigation into various claims filed against her.
In November 2016, then-Chief Assistant District Attorney Frank Cositore resigned.
In his resignation letter, Cositore accused Rain of lying to colleagues and victims, failing to properly instruct and develop her staff, letting cases go to the wayside and demonstrating a lack of concern for victims. He also accused Rain of lying to victims. Cositore would not disclose whether he filed grievances against the district attorney.
In December of 2016, county legislators called for Rain’s resignation and asked the governor again to investigate her. Cuomo, however said he would not get involved. He said an investigation was underway by the Third Judicial Department.
In January of 2017, Hillary filed a notice of claim that he intended to sue St. Lawrence County and more than 40 individuals, including Rain.
In March, Canton Attorney Narrow filed a notice that he intended to sue St. Lawrence County and Rain for $2.5 million. Narrow then settled his suit with St. Lawrence County for $1. His suit against Rain is ongoing.
In the claim, Rain is accused of keeping an “enemies list” of individuals “upon whom she seeks to avenge herself for imagined wrongs and slights.”
In a separate legal action, Narrow asked the court to bar Rain from handling 59 cases being handled by his firm. Judge Champagne denied 58 of the requests but did call for a special prosecutor in one of the cases. Champagne said Narrow would need to submit individual requests for special prosecutors in the remaining cases.