This week, The Ithaca Voice is featuring Q&As from people running for District Attorney. This is the first of several profiles. If you or someone you know was inadvertently overlooked while The Voice was reaching out to candidates, please contact us at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, NY – Andrew Bonavia, a Democrat, has practiced law in Tompkins County for 18 years, most recently as Deputy District Attorney, appointed in 2014.

 What is your experience in law and working in Tompkins County?

I have practiced in Tompkins County for the past 18 years. In 2004, I joined the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney. In 2014, I was appointed Deputy District Attorney. Following the retirement of District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson, I was sworn in as the Acting District Attorney.

I handle the most violent felony and sexual assault cases that occur within our community. I have obtained convictions in homicides, robberies, assaults, sexual assaults, shootings and illegal gun possession cases. I also oversee the post-conviction appeals unit of the office. I personally review, prepare, and write appellate briefs, and argue them before the Appellate Division in Albany. An important part of my appellate work involves reviewing cases for wrongful convictions. I have worked with the Innocence Project, an organization that is committed to exonerating the wrongfully convicted by submitting post-conviction evidence for DNA testing. I also manage matters of extradition, search warrant preparation, and Grand Jury empanelment and presentation. I appear in the local criminal courts of Groton and Caroline, where I handle misdemeanor offenses and vehicle and traffic matters.

Outside of the courtroom, I perform administrative functions of the office, including budget preparation and personnel supervision. During my time at the office, I have initiated advancements in our office database and courtroom technology. I am also continuing the overdue fine collection effort, which has recouped thousands of dollars of unpaid fine money, much of which goes to County funds.

What one or two experiences stand out to you as major professional accomplishments and why?

My proudest accomplishment has been the opportunity to dedicate my career to public safety and seeking justice for the citizens of Tompkins County. I feel fortunate to love what I do and to have established working relationships with other dedicated public servants in our county law enforcement agencies, the state police and FBI, our courts, the probation department, the Advocacy Center, our county departments, and other DA’s offices around the state.

What changes, minor and/or major, do you feel need to happen within the Tompkins County legal system? If you are elected, how will you position as DA to help enable these changes?

In Tompkins County, we must play our part in the effort to prevent gun violence. We must focus on stiff penalties for people who commit acts of violence and illegally possess guns. As DA, I will support legislation designed to more effectively combat this problem and use my expertise and working relationship with other prosecutors around the state to deal with this public health and safety issue. Our community, and the law enforcement officers who are dedicated to protecting us, deserve the commitment and effort of the District Attorney’s Office in playing its part to reduce gun violence.

Former District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson supported drug law reform and helped write parts of the Ithaca Plan. How have you seen the legal system fail addicts or help addicts? What needs to change/remain the same and what is your stance on the Ithaca Plan?

The shift from incarceration-based consequences for non-violent drug offenders toward treatment-based alternatives has helped people who commit addiction-driven crimes get into treatment. From a community perspective, the goal to reduce the expense on our county jail and curb future criminal behavior is a positive one. However, we must not lose sight of the need to hold accountable those who look to profit from persons with addiction issues, and people who commit violent acts as a result of drugs. Doing so helps all members of the community.

For our community to have confidence in the treatment model, there must be confidence in the effectiveness of treatment methods, especially since more powerful and harmful drugs are prevalent in our community. We must continually reassess how to best prevent drug crimes, treat drug addiction, and protect the public.

I support the parts of the Plan that recommend providing services and support outside of the criminal justice system. However, the job of the DA is to enforce the laws of the State of New York, under which supervised injection sites are not legal. For such a plan to be supported it would require legislative action by policy makers after continued research and public comment. I support the search for new, effective, and, most importantly, legal ways to prevent, treat, and reduce the harm of drugs.

New legislation indicated that funding for assigned counsel is about to change in a major way and will, instead of being paid for through the county, be paid for by the state. In what ways do you think this will impact representation for low income and indigent people? How does that impact you on the prosecution side?

The new legislation to transfer funding of indigent defense back to the state is aimed at counties that provide inadequate service based on poor funding. In Tompkins County, the assigned counsel program has a well-deserved reputation for quality and inclusion. While the new legislation should go far to increase the level of service statewide, the quality of indigent representation in Tompkins County will remain high.

What is your background in the community?

I have been a lifelong member of our community. When I was two years old, my parents moved our family to Tompkins County where my mother began her career as a biology teacher at Groton High School and my father began his career as an electrical engineer at Borg-Warner on South Hill. I graduated from Groton High School. During the summers, I worked as a lifeguard at the municipal pool in town and delivered the Ithaca Journal on my bike. In 1994, I graduated from Ithaca College while working part-time making sandwiches in Center Ithaca. In 1997, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School and returned home to Tompkins County to practice law.

What’s something interesting about yourself that people wouldn’t know about? (Hobbies, sports, etc.)

I spend my free time golfing on our county’s many golf courses, more often in the rough than in the fairway.  I also enjoy swimming and boating on Cayuga Lake, visiting our local parks, and taking in the wide selection of entertainment offered at the State Theatre.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.