Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 03 October 2022 17:02

Statements By the Two Candidates for Saratoga County District Attorney

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

[JK: I have received statements from the two candidates running for Saratoga County District Attorney. They are Michael Phillips, who is a Democrat, and Karen Heggen, who is the incumbent Republican.]

Michael Phillips (D)

phillips.webp

MY CAMPAIGN FOR SARATOGA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Exclusively submitted to Saratoga Springs Politics

I’ve been a lawyer since 1991. My experience is deep—I’ve been on both sides of court as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, handled cases at the local, state and federal levels and done substantial transactional work and organizational leadership training with GE Energy.  I have spent a good part of my career doing the hard work of protecting and defending the rights of everyday, working Americans.

My roots in Saratoga County go back to fishing out of my grandfather’s trailer on the east side of Saratoga Lake as a five-year-old.  I now live in the second of two homes I’ve built on the lake.  I was an honor graduate of United States Marine boot camp in Parris Island, SC, and learned early in my career the importance of “one standard of justice.”  That is some of the personal experience and values I bring to now running for Saratoga County District Attorney. Readers can learn more about me and my campaign at Home – Michael Phillips for Saratoga County DA (phillips4districtattorney.com).

There are several reasons why I have entered this race, not the least of which is the over 50-year lapse of time since there was a race for District Attorney in Saratoga County.  If elected officials are not held accountable by the voters, they do not do their jobs, and, in the case of an elected prosecutor, people are not protected.  That is what has been happening in Saratoga County, and I am running to change that record.

Example #1 is the predatory, high profile NXIVM cult that sexually abused and trafficked women for years in the towns of Halfmoon and Clifton Park. During that time no investigation or prosecution was pursued by the District Attorney’s office, in which DA Karen Heggen has been employed for more than 25 years. NXIVM operated for 15 years in Saratoga County before the federal government stepped in and prosecuted the group and its leader Keith Raniere, who is now serving a federal sentence of 120 years.  My campaign is asking the same question that Federal District Judge Nicholas Garaufis asked; “where were the local prosecutors”?  Is it that NXIVM was untouchable because there were backed up by billionaires who are now serving prison terms?

DA Heggen failed to heed the public warnings or investigate what the newspapers saw as suspicious behavior as far back as 2003. The cult’s behavior and treatment of women came into clear focus in 2017 when the national news picked up on a complaint filed at the NYS Department of Health. Sarah Edmondson, an actress and decades-long devoted NXIVM member/victim, came forward to tell her story—she was branded as a sex slave as part of the organization’s initiation process. Even after this, Heggen did nothing. 

All of this is documented in a 2021 HBO documentary film, “The Vow”.

Example #2 is the failure of this District Attorney in 2022 to prosecute a repeat pedophile, Jonathan Aronson. Aronson pled guilty in 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful dealing with a minor.  He was arrested again in January of 2022 and charged with felony rape of an 11-year-old child.  Arrested on January 5 and out on bail on January 6.  The district attorney did not even oppose the bail application proposed by Aronson’s counsel.  This case has been lingering in Greenfield Town Court for 10 months with no action by the DA.  Why? Could it be because he is connected to wealthy real estate interests in Saratoga Springs?


A prosecutor’s sworn obligation is to prosecute “without fear or favor”.  Clearly, this value is not being observed in Saratoga County, but this is what happens when there is no contested race for District Attorney.  The job does not get done, and the people are not protected from predators.

I’m 65 years old, so I’m not running for DA to set up a run for Congress or to be a judge somewhere. I’m running to train, build and lead the best District Attorney’s office in New York State for the global destination point of Saratoga County, a community that I grew up in, love and call home. There is no other reason to seek the job. This is our message–to be the best – to live up to the oath and to prosecute “without fear or favor”.

Karen Heggen (R)

DUTY   HONOR   JUSTICE

Duty, Honor and Justice are the three words contained on the Seal of the Office of the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office.  These are the guiding principles  I have followed each day throughout my thirty-year career as a prosecutor. 

First, duty encompasses the responsibility to know what is required to be a prosecutor. Over the past 30 years, I worked each day to learn and develop my skills to effectively serve the residents of Saratoga County.  When the opportunities opened up, I was proud to have been promoted to handle more challenging and difficult assignments- from a part-time Assistant District Attorney, to the Chief Trial Assistant District Attorney, to First Assistant District Attorney, to Acting District Attorney, and in 2015 taking office as the elected District Attorney.  With each new opportunity, I continued to enhance my skills as I handled more and more difficult and complex cases.  I have prosecuted all kinds of cases- from vehicle and traffic matters to burglary, robbery, homicide, and kidnapping cases.  In my role as the District Attorney, in addition to advising and consulting on cases, I also manage an office of 40 employees and have come in under budget each year.  I have added grant funding to support additional employees and re-structured the office units using existing staff to provide training and oversight on the continuing, growing case load.  Lastly, the 2019 and 2020 Criminal Justice Reforms brought significant changes to the practice of criminal law in New York State including discovery and bail reform.  I have led my office through the significant changes and challenges.

Second, honor reflects the significance of the job of a prosecutor and the importance of doing the right thing each day regarding each case.  I have the distinct privilege to lead a team of dedicated prosecutors who collaborate each and every day with the 12 law enforcement agencies in Saratoga County.  Our strong working relationship has resulted in our office continuing to maintain a 95% felony conviction rate in County Court.  I submit this good work is also reflected in the fact that Saratoga County has the lowest crime rate in the Capital District and one of the lowest crime rates in the State of New York.  Honor extends beyond the courtroom and includes community outreach and support.  Honor is reflected in our commitment to providing training programs for law enforcement, as well as educational programs in collaboration with not-for-profit and school agencies regarding drug use and abuse, domestic violence prevention and support of victims.  I am also honored to serve with several agencies and organizations on their boards.

Lastly, justice is the cornerstone of everything we do as prosecutors.  Justice is what each and every prosecutor is called upon to achieve for all affected by the criminal justice system- the crime victims, the community as a whole,  and the Defendants.  My office actively participates in the Saratoga County Treatment Court where individuals work to address the disease of addiction through hard work and support of the County’s Treatment team.  That diversion-based program has successfully graduated over 330 citizens who returned to our community sober and productive individuals. 

My professional life has been dedicated and committed to these three principles.  I possess the heart, passion, conviction, dedication and commitment to continue to lead my assembled team of experienced prosecutors to continue Saratoga County’s status as one of the safest and most desirable places to live in New York State. 

Karen A. Heggen

Saratoga County District Attorney

September 30, 2022

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