A longtime Schoharie County assistant district attorney has thrown her hat into the ring for district attorney. If successful in her bid, she would become the first woman to hold the position in the county and carry on a family tradition of public service in the courtroom.
Current Schoharie County District Attorney James Sacket is retiring at the end of the year.
Susan Mallery, an ADA in Sacket’s office for the past 19 years, is seeking the Republican, Independent and Conservative party lines for her bid in November’s election. Her father, Roger Mallery, served as district attorney in Schoharie County for 11 years.
Mallery, 49, started in private practice four years before she joined the DA’s office nearly 20 years ago. She’s maintained her private practice while serving as an ADA, focusing mainly on business and real estate law, wills and estates, and family court matters. As ADA, she prosecutes burglaries, drug cases, and domestic abuse and sex crimes.
Mallery said her biggest asset is her familiarity with prosecuting crimes in Schoharie County as the longest running ADA in the office.
“Now that [Sacket is] retiring, I feel it’s a natural step to continue the work I've done, that we've done together,” said Mallery, in explaining her motivation to run for DA. “I feel it’s important to have the experience so our office will be respected going forward.”
Mallery said it would be a great achievement to become the first woman DA in Schoharie County, but downplayed the importance of gender in the race.
“Being elected DA goes beyond someone's physical attributes, it has to do with who has the most experience and knowledge. ... I feel that I am the one with the most experience,” said Mallery. “It can't just be about gender, this is too important.”
Democrat Shawn Smith, the Blenheim town supervisor, is the only other candidate to make known his intentions to run for DA. Smith is the president of the Schoharie County Bar Association and has had a private practice based in Schoharie since 2013.
Mallery’s experience notwithstanding, should she be elected DA she will be the first female to hold the position in a county where only one other woman holds countywide office. Indica Jaycox holds the position of county clerk, but the other four countywide positions -- county, surrogate and family court judge, sheriff, treasurer and district attorney -- are held by men and historically have been. Just two of the county’s 22 supervisor positions are held by women.
Dina Refki, executive director of the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany, said women seeking to enter government service in more rural counties need training and other women to lead the way in bolstering their ranks.
“[We need] to provide tools for women to run successful campaigns and increase their likelihood for success. That's where training women can play a very important role… learning to build thick skin and strengthen skills that make them prepared,” said Refki. “Exposure to role models is another effective tactic. You cannot be what you cannot see. That's particularly challenging in rural areas where that exposure may be somewhat limited.”
Refki added that the most effective tactic for recruiting women in government is to emphasize the potential change that women in office can make.
“Public service is a duty and politics may be dirty but you can choose to be ethical and maintain your integrity,” said Refki. “Cleaning up the image of politics is critical if we want women to put themselves out there.”
Mallery already appears to have the support of Republicans in the county. Schoharie County Republican Committee Vice President Chris Tague said Mallery is the most qualified candidate and his committee isn’t looking at anyone else at this point.
“I think we all feel we have the best candidate possible. I'm excited,” said Tague, who is also the Schoharie town supervisor. “You hear of other women DAs across the different counties, but to have one in your own county, that’s going to make history, that’s a big deal.”
Tague said he believes that prior to Jaycox being elected county clerk, only one other woman has held countywide office.
“In the 1930s or '40s, the county had a female county clerk,” said Tague, “but besides that, [Jaycox] was the first female countywide candidate elected.”
Much like the candidate herself, Tague said his endorsement really came down to Mallery’s experience in the DA’s office.
“[Mallery] is just a one-of-a-kind candidate. She’s worked as an ADA for almost 20 years, and she’s different from any other candidate that might be in the race,” said Tague. “She’s a formidable attorney; she knows her stuff. And to be an ADA for 19 years, she must have had the respect of the retiring DA to be there for all those years.”
Mallery told The Daily Gazette that while Sacket is barred from endorsing anyone, he’s been busy showing her the ins and outs of running the office, so that if she were to be elected DA any transition would be a smooth one.
Throughout her career, Mallery has focused especially on abuse and burglary cases. She said she’s noticed an uptick in personal property crimes like burglaries that have risen with the opioid crisis, and that many of the crimes she prosecutes are related to drug use in one way or another.
She likes that the county typically handles low-level drug offenses through treatment as opposed to prosecution, and plans to continue in that strategy if elected. For higher-level drug cases, she believes the county’s drug court serves as a significant deterrent. But, she said, there’s always room for improvement.
“You’re always constantly looking for improvements so it’s not something that’s stagnant,” said Mallery. “It’s a matter of talking to the community members, seeing where the need is and what we can do. The goal is to get Schoharie County safe and protected.”
She added that while there is a focus on stemming the tide of heroin and other opioid abuse in the county, there are other substances that lead to crimes being committed against county residents, and she doesn’t want to lose sight of any victim.
“I think the focus is on opioids, but it can be drugs, it can be alcohol, anything that leads to abuse, burglary, assault or theft,” she said. “It’s how that impacts other areas -- if they’re stealing to feed their drug habit, if they’re driving drunk or abusing their spouse ... we should not be stagnant, we should be assessing what works, what we can improve on, new programs, what are effective programs. It’s an area you should constantly be doing an analysis on.”
Mallery grew up in Cobleskill, where she currently lives with her husband and two teenage children, one boy and one girl. Her husband, Steven Mallery, is a 28-year veteran of the Cobleskill Police Department. She attended Syracuse University and and graduated from Albany Law School with a juris doctor degree in 1993.