The Ulster County District Attorney’s office last week announced the appointment of Elizabeth Culmone-Mills as the new deputy chief assistant district attorney, the move coming one week after the county legislature voted 16-7 to approve a round of staffing requests.
The new position was described in a press release as “third-in-command” in District Attorney David Clegg’s office, with the purview including supervising the bureau chiefs and managing the day-to-day operations of the office.
Culmone-Mills has been with the Ulster County District Attorney’s office since 2007, including serving as Special Victims Unit chief, and overseeing the establishment of the county’s Intimate Partner Violence Intervention (IPVI) Program, a multi-agency initiative dedicated to deterring, preventing and reducing domestic violence.
“Deputy Chief ADA Culmone-Mills brings over 16 years of the highest level of prosecutorial experience to the position. Her leadership, organization, and drive for justice has already transformed how our local criminal justice system responds to intimate partner violence.” said Clegg in a July 26 press release. “When it comes to seeking justice for survivors of crime, ADA Culmone-Mills does not accept the status quo. Where the system is lacking, she is tenacious in her quest to make changes at a structural level.”
The press release also included a pseudonymous quote from a survivor of domestic violence.
“The work that Liz does is truly life changing,” said ‘Mary.’ “She brought out the courage and strength in me that I never knew I had to stand up for myself. Because of her work, she gave me and my child our lives back. We are forever grateful for all she has done.”
In addition to the new deputy chief position, the legislature also approved the creation of a Justice Courts & Diversion Unit chief by combining two part-time local court assistant district attorney positions into a single full-time job. Among other responsibilities, the as-yet-unfilled position will be responsible for supervising and training justice court ADAs, and coordinating diversion and restorative justice referrals.
In addition to the creation of the pair of positions, the legislative approval on Tuesday, July 19 came in the form of a 2022 budget amendment and realignment of salaries, with an additional $2,056 from the county’s fund balance for 2021 to make it work.
Some legislators who opposed the measure felt it was inappropriate to do so just prior to beginning discussions about the 2023 budget, while others cited opposition to similar requests by former District Attorney,Republican Holley Carnright. Clegg is a Democrat.
“One thing that has been concerning me for a couple of years now is the unprecedented investment that this legislature has made in the district attorney’s office that I don’t believe would be happening if Holley Carnright were still our district attorney,” said Minority Leader Ken Ronk (R-Town of Shandaken). “Every year, Holley Carnright would come and ask for a little bit more money for his ADAs…which we had long all agreed were underpaid compared to their compatriots in other counties and other departments in the county which have attorneys. And every year he was told ‘No.’”
“We just don’t seem to say no to this DA,” Ronk said.
Legislator Eve Walter (D-Town and Village of New Paltz) said that had she been a legislator at the time, she’d have voted to give Carnright the funds he requested too.
“I think it’s a shame that he got all those ‘No’s,” Walter said. “If I was on the legislature, then I would’ve voted yes for those, because I respect that he knows what he needs to do to run his office correctly. So I don’t think we should hold against our current DA, the fact that we’re allowing him to rightsize his department, because it wasn’t done that way for the previous DA.”
Legislator Kathy Nolan (D-Towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken) said she approved of what Clegg was intending with the new positions, and that was enough for her to vote in favor of the measure.
“I have had conversations with the district attorney and I’m satisfied with the changes that are proposed and that have been in motion,” Nolan said. “I think we should all…do our due diligence and pursue the course we think is right. To me that means making these changes that will help improve the efficiency of the office and continue moving the office in a direction towards community policing and methods of interaction with the community that are shown to be effective in communities around the country. It’s a process, and it doesn’t happen right away.”
Legislator Joseph Maloney (D-Town and Village of Saugerties) said he was concerned about numerous mistakes, dismissals and deals made by the district attorney’s office.
“I’ve got four kids in this county,” Maloney said. “I can’t open up the paper and see these things that keep happening in our DA’s office…I want to know if there’s more that we don’t know about. Are we just not going after certain things? Have we given up on white collar crime? What’s going on here in this county, and when are we gonna stand up and require better? So I’m going to be a no on this, because I don’t know if I’d even get a return on my investment here.”