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Politics and Government

Oswego County legislator's position may be unaffected by sexual abuse case

Payne Horning
Legislator Shawn Doyle, third from right, at the March meeting of the Oswego County Legislature.

A member of the Oswego County Legislature was arraigned in court Wednesday on several charges of sexually abusing a minor. Legislator Shawn Doyle denies the charges and continues to serve in office, and he may be able to hold onto that seat regardless of the outcome of the trial.

Doyle hasn't missed a meeting of the Legislature since he was arrested last October and charged with giving alcohol to a 15-year-old male, endangering his welfare and lying to police. New charges were announced last month that included forcible touching and sexual abuse in the third degree. 

According to court documents, the boy said Doyle grabbed his genitals on Labor Day of 2017 while the two were watching a movie at Doyle's house. The boy told police that he removed Doyle's hand and asked him to stop, but Doyle became "more fierce" and grabbed his genitals again. That's when the police pulled into the driveway, according to the testimony, because his parents were looking for him.

When we asked about the charges after the March meeting of the Legislature, Doyle covered our microphone with a sheet of paper.

"I sent you my attorney's name," Doyle said. "Get a hold of him."

Doyle's attorney Michael Spano says his client has pleaded not guilty. But he declined to speak about the specifics of the case.

"He denies any wrong doing, and we say that as strongly as we can," Spano said. "As far as allegations that he knew this person - he did. He did know him, but there’s much more to the story that will have to come out during a trial."

Spano says Doyle has no present intention of stepping down from his seat, and according to New York state law, he's not obligated to. Doyle, who was reelected last November, cannot be removed by the Oswego County Legislature. 

"It’s all in the judicial side," said Legislature Chairman Shane Broadwell. "You always fall back to that innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, public opinion is very difficult in this situation. However, we don’t play a role in that as legislators - we don’t play a role in him effectively continuing to be a legislator."

Only the governor can remove a public official. Removal can also be triggered by a conviction, but that's in felony cases. All of the charges leveled against Doyle are misdemeanors. It can also be triggered by crimes involving his oath of office. But Gerald Benjamin, a longtime political science professor at SUNY New Paltz and former county legislator, said this case likely would not have anything to do with his oath. 

"Their oath of office is specified in state law and it generally involves upholding the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution,"Benjamin said. "It doesn’t reach criminal behavior that doesn’t reach the level of a felony."

Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes says his office is focused on the criminal prosecution of the case, and has no influence regarding Doyle's position as a legislator. But Oakes says there is a chance that the outcome of the trial may affect his seat after all.

"There may be collateral consequences as a result of that prosecution, and those collateral consequences may involve his position," Oakes said.

Doyle pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the upgraded charges. He'll be in court again May 9.