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Niagara County DA Responds; Legislator Calls for an Investigation | News

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Niagara County DA Responds; Legislator Calls for an Investigation

N. TONAWANDA, NY - Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante released a statement Wednesday about a plea deal given to a North Tonawanda woman charged with DWI.

23-year-old Sara Donovan had a DWI charge against her lowered to 2 traffic tickets after her attorney worked out a plea deal with Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante.

Channel 2's Marissa Bailey caught up with the Niagara County DA Michael Violante on his way out of the office and asked him why he signed off on the plea deal for the daughter of an NT councilmember.

"MARISSA: Can you answer any questions as to your decision in this case?

VIOLANTE: I uh sent a press release out to all the media... that is my decision.

MARISSA: Can you just explain to the people of Niagara County though, why you decided to give Sara Donovan a plea deal?

VIOLANTE: It's in the press release.

MARISSA: Don't you think the people of Niagara County deserve to know why she over other people that get DWI's...

VIOLANTE: If you want to know what my reasoning is... publish the press release.

MARISSA: Did you have any conversations with Nancy Donovan prior to making the decision about the plea.























































VIOLANTE: (no response)

MARISSA: Anything at all you want to say to the people that elected you to that office sir?










VIOLANTE: I hope that you have the nerve to publish my press release so people will know what I have to say. I intended the press release to be made public -- please do me a courtesy and make it public."

The case involved 23-year-old Sara Donovan, the daughter of North Tonawanda Alderwoman Nancy Donovan.

She was arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated in the early hours of July 11th after she hit 2 parked cars and blew a .13 BAC. According to police documents, Donovan told police she was coming from Crazy Jake's Bar on Webster Street in NT where she consumed two drinks. Donovan was taken to DeGraff Memorial Hospital where she was later released to police.

Donovan, the daughter of North Tonawanda council woman Nancy Donovan, retained Henry Wojtaszek, the former Niagara County Republican Chair as her attorney. Wojtaszek was not with Donovan when she was arraigned.

Now a Niagara County Legislator is calling for an investigation into the matter. Dennis Virtuoso (D-Niagara Falls) says what happened "doesn't pass the smell test." He thinks political influence played a role in the plea deal.

During a court appearance one week after the crash, the Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Ted Brenner, offered to have the Driving While Intoxicated charge lowered to a Driving While Impaired charge. Wojtaszek asked the judge for a one week extension so he could personally talk with the Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante. A request that Judge William Lewis agreed to.

Last Thursday, Donovan, Wojtaszek and Niagara County ADA Brenner, appeared in front of Judge Lewis where the two sides agreed to have Donovan's DWI charge lowered to a speeding ticket and a traffic violation. Judge Lewis signed off on the deal and required Donovan to pay $280.00 in fines and attend a drunk driving victim's impact panel.

According to New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, a person charged with an alcohol related offense is not allowed to plead guilty to a non-alcohol related charge, unless their are "special circumstances."

Judge Lewis says Niagara County ADA Brenner justified those special circumstances as being the fact that the 23-year-old Donovan had no prior record and would lose her license as a certified public accountant.  All reasons that Judge Lewis says he signed the plea deal and defended his decision.

2 On Your Side's Claudine Ewing contacted the New York State Education Department. They have no record listing Donovan as a Certified CPA.

According to the NYSED, DWAI is not a crime and would not result in discipline.   A criminal conviction prior to licensure may be considered a question of moral character which involves a review by a panel of the State Board.

Click on the video link to see Violante's response and Marissa Bailey's complete report shot by photojournalist Bill Boyer.

District Attorney Violante released the following statement on Wednesday about the plea deal:

"Much has been said and written of my decision in the case involving Sara Donovan. Cases involving DWI are always taken very seriously by this office, especially those involving a property damage crash. And while I am required to administer justice evenly, I must review all of the relevant facts surrounding an arrest and treat each case individually and each person as an individual.

"Plea offers such as the one involved in this case have occurred in the past and may very well occur in the future where a disposition outside the usual and common practices serve the interest of justice. The practice of plea bargaining at all court levels occurs on a daily basis and while some of those plea bargains may seem unusual to some citizens of Niagara County, I can assure you that the safety and well-being of all of the citizens of Niagara County is my utmost concern.

"Unfortunately, in the case of Sara Donovan, the fact that this young woman is the daughter of a public official is drawing more attention than it would if this case involved the average citizen.

"I will not make it a practice to explain or justify my decisions to the press in regards to plea bargain offers made by this office, however, I do not want the negative publicity of one case to overshadow the hard work and dedication of this office and all of the positive work done in the hundreds of cases handled on a daily basis."

- Michael J. Violante, Niagara County District Attorney


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