Democrat Phillips challenges Heggen for Saratoga County District Attorney post – Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — Saratoga Springs District Attorney Karen Heggen will face challenger Michael Phillips in this year’s election. Early voting ends Nov. 6. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Heggen was served as the county’s DA since 2014.

The Saratogian sent Heggen and Phillips a questionnaire to allow readers to get to know each candidate. The following are their responses.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Heggen: “I have been a Saratoga County Resident my entire life. I grew up and still live in the Town of Malta. I am a proud graduate of Ballston Spa High School, Middlebury College and Vermont Law School. I was honored to join the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office in 1993 as a part-time Assistant District Attorney, and was promoted over the years to serve as the Chief Trial Assistant District Attorney; First Assistant District Attorney, Acting District Attorney and honored to have been elected District Attorney in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.

“I have a dedicated team of men and women who work each day to achieve justice for the victims of crime, our community and the defendant. It would be my distinct honor to be re-elected again this year to continue the good work we do to keep Saratoga County one of the safest large counties in New York State.”

Phillips: “I grew up fishing on Saratoga Lake with my grandfather. I didn’t start law school until the day after I turned thirty years old. After college, I spent three years working as a structural welder with as a member of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Union. Since becoming a lawyer, I’ve spent 30 years as an advocate, lawyer and organizational leader working in both the private and public sectors.

“I was as commercial contracts manager at General Electric and corporate counsel at Pacific Northern. I served as President of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation and am now a prosecutor for the NYS Dept. of Health. My roots in the area run deep. I spend my winter weekends teaching snowboarding to kids at the Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne.”

2. Why did you want to run for this position?

Heggen: “Serving as the Saratoga County District Attorney is the culmination of my professional career that started over 30 years ago as a part-time Assistant District Attorney. I have worked my way up through the office, being tapped to handle more difficult and challenging cases over the years. I find it rewarding to work in the community I have spent my life in, making a difference each day in collaboration with law enforcement and the other agencies we work with daily.

Phillips: “Being elected as Saratoga County District Attorney would be a high point of my legal and work career. I would bring all my work experience to this critically important position. My father, a Navy vet, instilled in me a sense of service. I joined the Marines as a young man and now I want to continue that service to the county that has given me so much. My goal is to establish a Center of Excellence in the DA’s office where one standard of justice is the norm.

“I see so much that hasn’t been done, crimes that have been glossed over, sexual predators allowed to operate without impunity. It’s time for a new direction for the Saratoga District Attorney’s office in which people and justice triumph over politics and judgment.”

3. What do you think the biggest issues facing the community are right now?

Heggen: “The changes to the practice of criminal law as a result of the Criminal Justice Reforms of 2019 and 2020 have brought about the most substantial changes in the field of criminal law in my 30-plus legal career and in my opinion, bring about The biggest issues facing our community right now. There has been a significant shift by the legislation that impacts how we handle bail, discovery (the sharing of information about a case) and an exponential increase in the amount of work needed to be completed in a very short period of time (20 days to no more than 35 days).

“These changes were set forth with little definition, guidance or structure in place when they went into effect in January, 2020. I am proud of the innovations developed in my office to identify, collect, review, redact, and disseminate the discovery material for Each of the several thousand cases we handle each year. This transformation of our discovery process brought us to go paperless during the COVID pandemic, as we worked both remotely and in the office and courts throughout the county. In addition to discovery efficiencies, our community continues to have issues surrounding the bail reforms that also went into effect in 2020 and continue to challenge the system when it comes to concerns regarding safety of the public and continuing repeat offenders.

“I will continue to work within the county to ensure that bail is requested and sought from a court where provided for and where it is in the best interest of our community.”

Phillips: “From the perspective of the county’s top prosecutor, we all know that crime is a factor. The bail laws do need to be looked at and changes should be made. But, right here in Saratoga County one of the biggest issues is the district attorney’s office. There’s a (reported) 75% staff turnover rate. Mark French’s killers were allowed to plead down to a low-level assault charge and will only serve three years in jail.

“A predicate sexual offender, Jonathan Aronson, continues to walk the streets while his child rape case is delayed over and over again. If crime is an issue, the District Attorney’s office must be proactive.”

4. What would you hope to achieve during your first 100 days in office?

Heggen: “My plan for the first 100 days in office would be to continue to enhance and streamline the processes and efficiencies in place to fulfill our obligations to all involved in the criminal justice system. It would also be my desire to continue to enhance the working relationships my office has with the members of the law enforcement community to assist in continuing to hold training programs and seminars in our county issues regarding we see, encounter and anticipate.

“For example, we just held a driving while impaired or intoxicated day-long program for 35 law members in anticipation of an increase of driving while enforcement cases with the increased access to cannabis. Above all, what I look to do is continue the collaborations and relationships I have established throughout the County to work to achieve justice for our community and keep it safe.”

Phillips: “A thorough review of open and pending cases with an eye towards prosecuting criminals and not cutting deals; Talk with each member of the staff, support and attorneys, to get their view on the office and input on creating a center of excellence so that they can pursue justice; Begin the review process that sets the foundation for an office that operates with One Standard of Justice, for all of Saratoga County; Bring together local judges and stakeholders to establish a Veterans’ Treatment Court.”