New Tompkins County District Attorney takes office


ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County officially welcomed its new District Attorney to office Friday afternoon in a swearing in ceremony at the county courthouse in Ithaca.

Democrat Matt Van Houten beat out Independent candidate Ed Kopko for the position during the November election, receiving nearly three times as many votes, after a contentious election season.

Van Houten grew up in the Ithaca area and has worked as a lawyer in Tompkins County for more than 20 years, handling both civil cases and criminal cases ranging from family court to homicide.

He took a brief hiatus from his career as an attorney in 2012 when he became the CEO of USA Team Handball, but came back to Ithaca in 2014 to open his own law firm Van Houten Law Office.

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Van Houten said after the swearing in, "I feel good. I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks since the election preparing to take office -- talking with the staff, planning. I think we're in a good position. We have a very good staff in place, and I think we're on the same page in terms of what we expect to do going in the new year."

Van Houten is taking office amidst an unusually violent series of crimes that have recently happened in the county.

Ithaca saw two homicides in 2016. Previously, it had been more than five years since a person was murdered in the city. In Newfield, a man was killed during a December robbery, resulting in four people being charged with second-degree murder and a fifth person being charged with conspiracy.

Van Houten said it would have been inappropriate to delve deep into the cases before officially being sworn in, but he said he's gone over the publicly available documents and has been briefed on the homicide cases. He planned to have in-depth discussions about the cases following the New Year.

The assistant district attorneys already in office -- Alyxandra Stanczak, Daniel Johnson, Diane Lama, Eliza Filipowski, Brad Rudin, Gary Surdell -- will remain on staff with the new DA. Former Acting District Attorney Andrew Bonavia will take the post of Deputy District Attorney, a position he held under former DA Gwen Wilkinson.

Wilkinson resigned from her post as DA over the summer due to ongoing health issues, prompting the DA election a year earlier than scheduled.