News & Events

Attorneys Visit Hartwick to Share Expertise

April 29, 2009

Students in Lecturer in Sociology Ellen Coccoma's Introduction to Criminal Justice class got up close and personal with two of the area's most accomplished attorneys on Tuesday, April 28. Assistant New York State Attorney General Carol Cocchiola and Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl joined the class for a wide-ranging discussion on the role of the prosecutor in the criminal justice system.

The attorneys told the class of their backgrounds, education, and daily work life before opening up the floor for questions. Both Cocchiola and Muehl began their education as business majors--she at Duquesne University, he at the University of Buffalo. Though their paths to careers in law differed, both agreed that they are challenged and stimulated by their profession.

"I never know what I'm going to be doing the next day," said Cocchiola, who works out of the Attorney General's Binghamton office. "You sort of jump and go with it, but that's the part of the practice that I really like. I couldn't do real estate [law], I don't think it would be enough action for me, personally."

Cocchiola explained that the Attorney General's staff handles a wide variety of cases, and many Assistants within the 13 regional offices in the state have specializations.

"We basically handle whatever comes in the office in our area of expertise," she said. "I take a lot of cases with the Department of Mental Health, claims with the Department of Correctional Services, things like that."

While the AG handles many types of prosecution, the office's scope does have its limits, she explained. Dispelling one popular myth, Cocchiola told the class that "the Attorney General is not like a super District Attorney."

"DAs are elected officials; we don't have the authority to swoop in and tell them what to do," she said.

Muehl, who is in his second term as Otsego County District Attorney, was blunt in explaining his job.

"My office is responsible for prosecuting every single crime in Otsego County," he said, "from speeding tickets to murder. Last year that meant about 300 felonies, about 1,200 misdemeanors, and, I don't know, at least 10,000 traffic tickets. Unlike the Attorney General's office, all we deal with is criminal law."

Noting that his office has only a handful of employees--several part-time--Muehl said that sometimes his work is hectic.

"Everything is very fast paced," he said, "sometimes too fast paced. It's about dealing with people's real lives, dealing with victims, victims' advocacy groups, all of the police departments in the county, federal prosecutors in drug cases, the Attorney General's office in organized crime cases. There's always something going on."

Despite the workload, Muehl said he loves the work--except for campaigning every few years in hopes that the voters of Otsego County rehire him.

"The only part I don't like is the politics, but the nice thing about my job is I'm not supposed to be political. The last thing I worry about day-to-day is what somebody's political party is. But for about six months every couple of years, I do have to be out there campaigning and being political. Ick."

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive Liberal Arts in Practice curriculum merges traditional liberal arts study, personalized teaching, and experiential learning approaches to emphasize Connecting the Classroom to the World. Add to that a wide range of off-campus internships, collaborative research, study-abroad opportunities, and a unique January Term, and Hartwick prepares students for the world ahead. Strong financial aid and scholarship programs keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Christopher Lott
Phone: 607-431-4030