The ornate upstairs courtroom of the Niagara County Courthouse in Lockport was packed to capacity with guests spilling out into the massive building’s rotunda Saturday as Niagara County’s first female district attorney took the oath of office.
Caroline A. Wojtaszek—former assistant district attorney, wife to former Niagara County Republican Chairman and current Western Region Off-Track Betting President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek, sister-in-law of State Supreme Court Justice Paul B. Wojtaszek—was sworn in before a crowd approaching 200, consisting largely of lawyers, judges, and police chiefs.
The first woman to hold the office of DA didn’t mince words, vowing to be as tough on crime and criminals, as Niagara County’s chief prosecutor, as she was during her tenure as the ADA, locking up Niagara Falls teenager Jennifer Bolender’s murderers a decade ago.
“From the minute I started in the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office almost 20 years ago, I knew I had the best job in the world. It is a very tough job—don’t get me wrong,” Wojtaszek told her audience. “But when a child came to me and told me how they were abused, I knew that offender would never abuse that child again or any other child if I had anything to do with it. That motivated me every day.”
Wojtaszek laid down the gauntlet for her assistant prosecutors, telling them that “fair justice” was the goal.
“I promise that my only motivation will be to keep our community as safe as possible, and I will strive to get the right result in every case. I want to bring leadership, energy and… new strategies to tackle the toughest issues that we face [to achieve] fair justice with an even hand,” Wojtaszek said. “In the DA’s Office we ask crime victims to get up on that stand and face the person who hurt them. We ask them to face their ordeal in front of a room full of strangers. We ask them to rise up and they do!”
Wojtaszek’s pedigree is virtually unrivaled on the local political scene. As previously noted, her husband, Henry, is one of the most powerful political powerbrokers in the county, and possibly Western New York, a figure whose influence has remained undiluted even as other top figures in the Niagara County GOP have faded into the sunset since the departure of Sen. George D. Maziarz, the architect of the GOP machine that runs much of the county. Her brother-in-law Paul sits on the State Supreme Court, and her sister-in-law Kathleen Wojtaszek-Gariano presides over Niagara County’s Family Court.
Wojtaszek devoted much of her inaugural speech to family, which makes sense, as she derives much of her power from familial connections.
None of that is to suggest that she doesn’t bring enormous gravitas herself, though—which may be beneficial, given that, unlike most of her politically-connected family, who are Republicans, the new DA is, herself, a Democrat.
One of the former law clerk and former ADA’s first jobs was interning for former U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-Manhattan. One of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, Rangel, who retired from Congress this year, chaired the House Ways and Means Committee from 2007 to 2010.
All of that positioned Wojtaszek for a run for DA that saw her win cross-endorsement from the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the minor Conservative and Independence parties, which generally tend to support GOP-allied candidates in county elections.
Yet, despite her pedigree and power, Wojtaszek’s most noteworthy asset may be her gender and a clear mandate for reform as she enters the DA’s office. Former District Attorney Michael Violante departed under a cloud, facing a high-profile sexual discrimination suit by one of his own ADAs. Wojtaszek addressed this in an aside in her inaugural speech:
“I want to inspire the attorneys in the DA’s office to do their best work. The office is filled with dedicated, talented attorneys,” she told her team of prosecutors at her New Year’s Eve inauguration. “It was not been easy these last few years in the office but you have carried the torch through it all. You simply got up every day and did what needed to be done for the people of Niagara County.”
Wojtaszek has moved swiftly to reorganize the DA’s office, shuffling personnel and bringing on former prosecutor Mary Jean Bowman to be one of her top deputies, as well as DA’s Office mainstay Holly Sloma, who will be first deputy.
DA’s Office insiders tell us Wojtaszek also has vowed to make the continuing education of the county’s prosecutors a priority, and will be basing several of her prosecutors in Niagara Falls, which is the highest-crime area in the county. They also tell us that Wojtaszek’s time as the county’s domestic violence coordinator under former Sheriff Tom Beilein has left her an aggressive fighter on behalf of crime and abuse victims.
“Every day, I will ask our prosecutors to rise up and do justice, to seek the right results on difficult cases and guide victims through the criminal justice system with compassion,” Wojtaszek vowed.