Wojtaszek vs Benedict Campaign for County Court Judge Dragged into Gutter

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By: Editorial by Reporter Staff

Unlike other political races, candidates for the judiciary are not permitted to engage in policy discussions, present their opinions on issues of the day, or disparage their opponents.

That limits judicial candidates to discussing their experience, qualifications, and who they are as an individual.

And that is how it normally went in every judicial race in recent memory, except for one: This year’s race for Niagara County Court Judge to fill the seat of retiring judge Sara Sheldon-Sperazza.

The candidates for this race are the current district attorney, Caroline Wojtaszek, and Michael Bendect, who is currently clerk for Judge Sheldon.

 

Current District Attorney and candidate for County Court Judge Caroline Wojtaszek.

 

Candidate for County Court Judge Michael Benedict.

 

Wojtaszek was formerly Sheldon’s confidential clerk prior to her becoming DA.

This once staid and peaceful judicial race has turned, seemingly overnight, into a gutter style attack on Wojtaszek, led by Benedict and his supporters who seem willing to break time-honored traditions and possibly ethics rules in order to try to gain advantage for Benedict.

Throughout the course of the campaign, Wojtaszek, acting judicially, and Benedict, acting by all appearances to be desperate, have approached the race differently.

Wojtaszek, who was elected as the first female District Attorney in Niagara County, has campaigned on her record of accomplishment and experience.

Her literature speaks of overseeing the prosecution of more than 14,000 cases as District Attorney, having personally participated in over 30 felony jury trials, having written over 100 decisions and orders during her seven-year tenure as confidential law clerk, and having argued more than 100 complex motions as an attorney.

 

 

Benedict, on the other hand, has no such experience. He has not prosecuted any felony jury trials or have even a fifth of the felony trial experience of Wojtaszek.

Instead, he has emphasized his limited experience, on social media or his website, and used attack-style campaigning. Notably, instead of giving specific numerical data to support his claims of experience, he uses vague generalities.

Benedict has been an Assistant Public Defender, a Town Prosecutor handling traffic matters, and has been a confidential law clerk for three years, replacing Wojtaszek when she went on to be elected District Attorney for this county.

There had been no punches thrown between the two campaigns, no negative mailers, or robo-calls, until June.

 

RACE TURNS NEGATIVE

The first punch was thrown by Benedict supporter Jason Zona and the Niagara County Democratic Party who paid for a negative mailer against Wojtaszek.

The mailer, unprecedented in a judicial campaign,  attempted to make the old ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ argument which was that Wojtaszek is a registered Democrat but has donated more money to the Republican party over the years. Essentially, that her allegiance lies with the Republican Party and not the Democratic Party.

 

 

 

What wasn’t mentioned in the mailer were two important things:

First, that Wojtaszek was endorsed by the Niagara County Democratic Party four years ago [2016] when she was running for District Attorney.

Secondly, that in “crafting” the numbers for their mailer, they included monetary donations from Wojtaszek’s husband, Henry, who is in fact a Republican and a donor to the Republican Party.

Caroline, on the other hand, as District Attorney and prior to that a law clerk for a distinguished judge, made far less donations and, if she did, they were even among parties.

Was the Benedict-supportive mailer deceptive? It certainly was.

Caroline and Henry, while happily married, do not share the same political views. To count Henry’s donations to the Republicans as Caroline’s is at best a lie by omission.

 

SECOND AMENDMENT

The next ethically challenged punch was thrown by the Benedict campaign itself, when it, or someone on behalf of the campaign, wrote and disseminated a letter from a one Simeon D. Mokhiber.

Mokhiber, a convicted criminal, wrote negatively about Wojtaszek’s record as a prosecutor on the 2nd Amendment using his case as an example.

 

The letter.

 

Unfortunately, the facts don’t align with Mokhiber’s skewed and disgruntled view.

As District Attorney, Wojtaszek inherited the indictment from her predecessor, D.A. Michael Violante, against Mokhiber, who was charged with Driving While Intoxicated and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree.

Mokhiber possessed three fully loaded 17-round magazines while driving around drunk.

Once Wojtaszek became District Attorney, her office made numerous attempts to try and resolve the case in a reasonable manner including offering him a chance to go to Veteran’s Court and get the charges reduced dramatically or dismissed, which Mokhiber refused because he openly wanted to challenge the constitutionality of the SAFE ACT.

The District Attorney’s Office gave Mokhiber every chance at a fair and representative jury of his peers, by not challenging the seating of gun owners, hunters, and 2nd Amendment supporters.

At trial, Mokhiber testified in his own defense urging jurors to disregard the law he was charged with violating. While he made an argument for jury nullification, which was permitted by the court, the jury nevertheless returned a guilty verdict.

It is certainly not Wojtasezek’s fault that Mokhiber’s attempt to change the law through jury nullification failed. It might have worked had Mokhiber been a more sympathetic standard bearer for the cause, or perhaps if he had not been driving drunk.

None of that mattered to judicial candidate Benedict and his campaign as they lied by omission, leaving out many of these important details to try to paint Wojtaszek as some kind of bleeding liberal who is anti-gun.

Just so you understand, first the Benedict supporters, writing mainly to Democrats in the mailer, tried to paint Wojtaszek as a Republican [through the donations of her husband].

Then writing to Republicans, they tried to paint Wojtaszek as a Democrat, who is anti-Second Amendment.

If this was a race for some political office, other than the judiciary, maybe we could laugh and wink at Benedict’s audacity, but instead we are left to ask, is this the kind of person we want as a judge?

In response to the disgruntled Mokhiber’s letter, Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski defended Wojtaszek and penned his own letter.

 

 

 

“You may have recently received a letter calling into question [Wojtaszek’s] stance on the Second Amendment,” wrote Jastremski. “I am writing you today to set the record straight: Caroline Wojtaszek supports the Second Amendment and the United States Constitution. In June 2019, District Attorney Wojtaszek took a public stand and refused to prosecute the sections of the SAFE ACT that had been declared unconstitutional by some courts. As District Attorney, she stood alongside our Sheriff and never actively pursued SAFE ACT cases.”

Indeed, had Mokhiber not been driving drunk and deliberately seeking a showdown, he would likely not have been charged or today would not have a criminal record.

 

GEORGE MAZIARZ ENTERS RACE TO ‘STICK IT’ TO HENRY WOJTASZEK

Despite these incongruities, the Benedict campaign shamelessly carried on.

A day later, former state senator George Maziarz, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, after having been charged with felony corruption, and who has been blatantly shunned from the local Republican Party, wrote a letter attacking Wojtaszek.

In stark contrast to the earlier Democratic Party mailer where she was accused of being a closet Republican, Maziarz now made the argument that Wojtaszek was in fact a fake conservative and a progressive liberal.

 

George Maziarz letter.

 

It was only then that Wojtaszek herself fired back at Maziarz in a campaign-sponsored robo-call on Friday, June 12th, 2020.

Wojtaszek stated, “do not believe the lies put forth by a disgraced politician or any anonymous robo-calls. I am endorsed by the Republican and Conservative parties and supported by Senator Rob Ortt, Assemblyman Mike Norris, and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello. I will stare down a disgraced former senator who has been rightfully ostracized for his own actions and vendettas. Just like in court, the truth will prevail.”

Her robo call statement is, unlike the Benedict offerings, 100 percent accurate.

 

SUPPORT FOR EACH CANDIDATE

Wojtaszek has gained the endorsements of the Niagara County Republican Party, Niagara County Conservative Party, Niagara County Independence Party and Niagara County Libertarian Party. Notable elected officials such as Senator Robert Ortt, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello and Mike Norris, Mayor Robert M. Restaino, Chairwoman of the County Legislature Becky Wydysh, and retired Sheriff Jim Voutour have thrown their support behind Wojtaszek.

When not attacking his opponent, the Benedict campaign has focused on family values and community ties. This includes multiple posts and videos of Benedict speaking about the Niagara County community and how he knows the people that live here. He essentially argues he is best fit to serve as County Court Judge because he is a member of the community.

Benedict has the support of the Niagara County Democratic Party and Working Families Party of Western New York, who recently adopted a platform in support of abolishing the police.

Personal endorsements include those from Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman who hired Benedict’s wife has her corporation counsel and convicted misdemeanant Maziarz, who has a longstanding vendetta against Wojtaszek’s husband, Henry, when the latter refused to condone his various alleged criminal activities.

In the end, while we understand Benedict’s desperation to get a job he is otherwise marginally qualified for and that he pales in comparison to his opponent, when qualifications and temperament are considered, we decry his entering the gutter to win. This is a race for the judiciary which, by design and by law, should be above this kind of seedy politicking.

 

**attorney advertising**

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