Jeff Schiano, a Republican candidate for Onondaga County Court judge. Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Schiano

This is the fourth of four stories about candidates for Onondaga County Court. Voters can pick two on their ballot. Two judges — Thomas Miller and Stephen Dougherty — announced their plans to retire earlier this year, opening up two spots on the bench. The elected judges will serve 10-year terms.

Candidate profiles are being posted in alphabetical order. Read our profiles of Annaleigh Porter, Melinda McGunnigle and Ted Limpert.

Jeff Schiano boasts that he’s the only candidate in the Onondaga County Court judges’ race to have served as a prosecutor, a defense lawyer and a judge. 

For the first six years of his career, he worked as a prosecutor in the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office. In 2016, he opened up his own practice and has defended clients in criminal court. 

Then in 2019, he was elected to serve as a town of Clay justice. 

“I’ve been on all three sides of the criminal courtroom,” Schiano said. 

Schiano, a Republican, is one of four candidates to serve a 10-year term as an Onondaga County Court judge. He is a native of the Syracuse-area and attended Christian Brothers Academy in high school, SUNY Binghamton for undergraduate studies and Syracuse University’s School of Law.

Schiano, whose brother is a sergeant in the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, wanted to be a New York State trooper when he went to college. That changed when Schiano came back from Binghamton one summer to intern at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office. 

Schinao observed court proceedings as an intern.

“I saw these guys try these cases and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” he said. 

After graduating from law school in 2009, he was hired by the DA’s office.

In his career as a prosecutor, Schiano handled violent felonies, including robberies, burglaries and assaults before being promoted to deputy bureau chief of the special victims unit. He eventually finished his time in the office in the narcotics bureau. 

Schiano said he didn’t have plans to run for county court judge until the arrest of Victoria Afet in the murder of 93-year-old Connie Tuori at Skyline Apartments.

Before the murder, Afet had been released by a city court judge after facing charges in an unrelated case that could’ve landed her in jail. She was then re-arrested and brought before Schiano in Centralized Arraignment Court. 

Schiano made the call to hold her in jail as she awaited her case. But shortly after, Afet was arrested for killing Tuori. 

“I saw that as a pivotal moment where this woman had been released several times prior to coming in front of me and the result of that was the murder of an innocent person,” Schiano asid. “It was really at that moment that I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ So I decided I was going to run.”

One question we asked every candidate

As a county court judge you would have a lot of power over people’s lives. How do you grapple with that power?

“The bottom line is, as a judge, you have to be able to separate yourself from both sides. It’s important to have the experience, I think, of both sides. In fact, that’s what makes a good judge. Because again, I’ve stood up for the rights of victims, certainly. But I’ve also stood up for the rights of people accused of crimes. To me, it’s extremely important that our judges have experience in both areas. I don’t know if I’d say it’s power over people, but we have the authority to ultimately make some very, very important decisions that are going to affect the lives of either the person accused of a crime or the victim who suffered the results of that crime. I think it’s important our judges have experienced both sides of the courtroom so you can be fair to both sides.”

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Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.