Derek Matthew Harnsberger was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The older of two children, Derek's mother is a retired a K-6 special education teacher, and his father is a retired mechanical engineer. Derek's brother is a psychologist practicing in Boston, Massachusetts.
Derek met his wife, Leslie, a former Monroe County Senior Assistant District Attorney with the Special Victim's Unit who currently serves as a Principal Law Clerk in the Supreme Court, during their time at Syracuse Law School and married in 2012.
Derek and Leslie live in Riga with their dogs, cats, horses, and other assorted wildlife. When they are not working, Derek and Leslie are actively involved in rehabilitating and re-homing abandoned, lost, or mistreated animals.
Fun fact: Derek is a black belt martial artist and has been surfing since 8 years old.
Motivated to pursue a career in the law at a young age, Derek obtained dual bachelor of science degrees in Pre-Law and History with top honors at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. Afterwards, Derek chose to move to Upstate New York and attend the Syracuse University College of Law. Specializing in Criminal Law and Counter-Terrorism, Derek graduated with honors.
Committed to public service, in addition to full-time studies, Derek spent his final year of law school volunteering with the United States Attorney's Office Criminal Division combating gun and gang violence while also working at the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York Disability Advocacy Unit to help individuals with disabilities who were denied or cut off from benefits.
Immediately after passing the NYS Bar Exam on his first attempt, Derek moved to Rochester to serve as a Public Defender with the Monroe County Public Defender's Office. Thereafter, Derek worked as a post-conviction defense attorney with the Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse fighting for people who otherwise could not afford an attorney to appeal their conviction. Ever since, Derek has been an enforcer of the law and prosecutor with the Monroe County District Attorney's Office.
Derek is a Senior Assistant District Attorney currently working in the Appeals Bureau of the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, where he handles appeals to criminal convictions. Prior to this position Derek, worked in the trial-level Special Investigations Bureau, a unit dedicated to combating drug trafficking and gun violence in our county.
Well known for his extensive and nuanced knowledge of the law, Derek prosecuted some of the most complicated cases, including homicides, gang violence, narcotics trafficking, domestic violence, child abuse, assault, and theft.
A dedicated, sympathetic advocate for victims, Derek understands the pain that crime inflicts on its victims and their families. Everyday, Derek works tirelessly to ensure victims are able to get the closure and justice they deserve.
As an Assistant Monroe County Public Defender, Derek represented thousands of individuals from every race, ethnicity, gender, and identity accused of a wide assortment of crimes.
From his experience, Derek knows that not every person accused of a crime can be written-off as a "bad person," and not every person accused of a crime is guilty. Over his career Derek has represented countless numbers of amazing people who made bad decisions, citizens who had drug, alcohol, or mental health issues that pushed them into criminal behavior, and clients who were simply not guilty of the charges levied against them.
As a post-conviction defense attorney with the Hiscock Legal Aid Society, Derek has seen the injustice that comes when Due Process is cut short. An advocate for civil liberties, Derek has successfully appealed the convictions of individuals who spent years in prison and were subsequently acquitted at a retrial.
In November 2019, Derek was elected to serve as a Councilman with the Riga Town Board.
In his time on the Board, Derek has kept Riga a tax-free town despite multiple high-price action items. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Derek has been actively working in his community to ensure his constituents are safe, sound, and secure during these uncertain times. As we move towards reopening, Derek will be working with the various small businesses in his town to get them back on their feet as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A proven leader inside and outside the courtroom, Derek has the constitution necessary to be Monroe County's next great County Court Judge.
Why derek's Running
Bring Balanced Justice
Voting for judges is hard because candidates all say the same thing: they're fair, firm, ethical, experienced, and passionate. What makes the candidates different this year? The answer is clear: Perfectly Balanced Experience.
Derek has litigated thousands of cases as both a defender and prosecutor, giving him the perfectly balanced perspective needed to be judge. Derek's opponent is a career prosecutor, and a scale can never be balanced when all the weight is on one side.
Derek will take his balanced approach to the bench, using his experience to ensure justice is administered in a truly balanced and uniform way. He will ensure every victim, defendant, witness, prosecutor, defense attorney, and everyone else involved in the litigation process gets their day in court before a judge who understands the equities from both sides of the aisle.
bring the highest ethics
While Monroe County has some of the best judges, prosecutors, and defenders in New York State, our court system has been badly marred by allegations of illegal or unethical conduct. This has to stop, and the only way to do that is for voters to elect judges who have an established track record of ethical behavior.
As a defense attorney turned prosecutor, Derek has a strong reputation in the legal community for having the highest ethics and the commitment to see legitimate, fair, and transparent justice is done in every case. Derek will bring the highest ethics to the County Court bench and ensure that every attorney who litigates in front of him abides by the same high ethical standards.
Follow The Law
Derek firmly believes that politicians write laws, and judges follow the law. Accordingly, if a person wants to make social policy, they should run for a position on the legislature, not the bench.
However, that's not always the case. Some people run for judicial positions because they want to advance an agenda or cause and end-around the legislative process. Derek is not one of these people. Derek will issue rulings fairly and consistently with the law, not based on politics or personal opinions.
By applying the law in a predicable way that is consistent with the law on the books, his courtroom will be efficient, fair, and effective.
protect individual liberties
Every person accused of a crime should get nothing short of full and fair due process of law. In his time working on appeals as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, he has seen the injustice that comes from cutting corners. That won't happen in his court. Every person will get nothing short of 100% of the rights they're entitled to.
Moreover, Derek is a strong support of Treatment Courts. Derek has worked with countless individuals who have found themselves in a criminal court for legitimate issues that are beyond their control. These include military-service related medical issues, drug addiction, and mental health issues. Derek believes that individuals who can be safely and fairly rehabilitated through programs like the Drug, Alcohol, Opiate-Stabilization, and Veterans Treatment Courts should be given the opportunity to do so.
That said, Derek has also seen how criminals have abused treatment programs to avoid the consequences of their wrongful actions. With his experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, Derek will ensure those who deserve mercy will get it, and those who warrant punishment will receive it.