BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—A judge has ordered that a special prosecutor be appointed in the case against former Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell.
Cornwell and his former communications officer, James Worhach, were charged with public corruption, forgery and other crimes by the Broome County District Attorney’s office in July.
Current District Attorney Mike Korchak announced the charges and said he would prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law.
Cornwell’s defense team, however, argued that Korchak’s involvement in the prosecution created a conflict of interest. Korchak served as Cornwell’s chief assistant district attorney during the period the alleged acts were said to have occurred.
The defense asserted that Korchak could be called to the stand as a witness in the case, disqualifying him from prosecuting the case, and asked the court to appoint a new attorney in late September.
A risk to “integrity and impartiality”
Justice Donald Cerio agreed with the defense, writing in his decision on Monday that “confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the criminal justice system” was at significant risk because of the dynamic between the two parties.
Arguments on the matter were heard in Broome County Supreme Court on Nov. 4.
According to Monday’s decision, Korchak asserted that an assistant district attorney from the county could be called to prosecute the case in the event he was called as a witness.
When asked about a potential conflict in July, Korchak said he was not permitted to pick and choose who he prosecutes.
“If a law is violated, someone will be held accountable and prosecuted. That’s the way the system works,” the district attorney said.
Cerio, however, concluded that the rules of professional conduct for attorneys in New York would prohibit Korchak from prosecuting the matter as he would likely be called to the stand as a witness.
The justice explained that Korchak, while serving as chief assistant district attorney, was privy to matters that will “undoubtedly be addressed during the course of the prosecution.”
That could include the alleged submission of false vouchers to receive more than $3,000 from the county government for which Cornwell and Worhach are charged.
Cerio wrote that Korchak’s action or inaction with respect to the approval of these vouchers in his capacity as chief assistant district attorney may be subject to examination at trial.
All of the alleged crimes were said to have been committed on multiple occasions between 2016 and 2019, when Cornwell and Korchak both worked at the Broome County District Attorney’s office.
Cerio also ruled that an assistant district attorney could not appear on or prosecute the case.
In his decision, Cerio ordered that once a special district attorney is appointed to the case, they will have 45 days to submit new material regarding the case.
Cornwell’s defense maintains that the indictment should be dismissed.