By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Chautauqua County Court Judge John T. Ward has presided over 10,000-plus cases in his tenure behind the bench.
Some of those cases - 74 to be exact - have resulted in appeal. Five of those appeals were later modified, while nine rulings were reversed altogether.
One of those reversals is the murder conviction of a Dunkirk man convicted of strangling a 14-year-old girl. Another involved Ward sentencing a man without proper counsel present.
"I think you have to look at the record in its entirety," Ward said. "If it's someone who is getting reversed over and over for the same thing, that's one thing.
"As far as I'm concerned, I don't think my record of appeals is a bad thing. I had to make decisions on cases that no (judge) has had to make before."
The reversal rate has been brought up by attorney William F. Coughlin, Ward's opponent for the County Judge position in the Nov. 6 General Election.
In a recent debate, Coughlin - a Democratic county legislator representing Fredonia - alluded to the 1998 murder case overseen by Ward.
Ingvue "Pete" Buchanan was convicted of murdering a 14-year-old Dunkirk girl; however, the case was later reversed in 2009 by the New York State Appeals Court.
During the trial, Buchanan was forced to wear an electronic stun belt - a move Ward said was necessary due to concerns raised by staff at the County Jail.
"Bottom line, he was a dangerous and large man who I was told by our staff could be a problem at trial," Ward said, noting that he had a doctor examine the stun belt to determine any ill effects.
"I was doing my best to keep a calm trial," he continued.
A hung jury during Buchanan's second trail resulted in a plea deal of 16 to 18 years in jail.
Coughlin, meanwhile, said the reversal reflects poorly on the county court system.
"More importantly Ingvue Buchanan is going to be walking the streets, somebody who should be in jail, as a direct result of mistakes," he said.
A Jamestown man had his sentence vacated after Ward sentenced him without an attorney present. Darin Bullock, already incarcerated at the County Jail, had pleaded guilty to attacking a corrections officer.
Ward gave Bullock 90 days to secure counsel; however, on the sentencing date, Bullock appeared without a lawyer, claiming he needed more time to secure proper counsel. Ward then sentenced him to state prison, a move later criticized by the state.
The conviction was later affirmed after re-sentencing.
"I had to do something," Ward said. "He was playing a cat-and-mouse game so I sentenced him. Otherwise, it would have dragged on, taking forever. I knew the sentence had a chance of being thrown out when I did it, but I had to do something."
An appeals judge found Charles Fredrick, who in 2008 was convicted of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, was deprived a fair trail because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Fredrick's defense counsel never objected to testimony during trial, and the conviction was later reversed.
"For all I knew, maybe that was part of the defense attorney's plan," Ward said.
He added: "I have some of the highest caseloads in recent years. So that's why I will have more cases appealed when you look at my overall record."