168th Commencement: Watch Live
To become Schenectady County Public Defender, Stephen Signore '90 completely transformed his thinking.
A 1985 Union College mechanical engineering graduate, Signore was working at Knolls Atomic Power Lab in Niskayuna when the law beckoned. "My brain was wired for math and science," he said, "so it was a whole rewiring of my mind to be more abstract than concrete."
In concrete numbers, Signore supervises 22 staff, including 14 attorneys, in handling 6,000 to 7,000 cases annually, 400 to 500 open at a time.
Working the other side of the courtroom during law school, Signore interned in the Albany County District Attorney's office. He has worked primarily in defending clients who qualify for his services through low-income status ever since, in both the Public Defender's office and the conflict defender's office, which serves those disqualified by conflicts from using the Public Defender. However, from 2001 to 2005, Signore worked in the Schenectady County Attorney's office.
A Rotterdam native and Mohonasen High School graduate (1981), Signore is the father of a 12-year-old daughter.
Several months into his new position, Signore now appreciates how his dual education – "night and day," he said – has uniquely prepared him to serve as head public defender.
"We're not dealing in absolutes," he explained. "It's more cerebral and the thought processes have to take on different conditions. It's about 'What is the answer in that circumstance.'"
"It's a logical process," he said, "taking something and putting it through a mechanical process similar to proofs in geometry." Signore said, "You're doing the legal, cerebral work, but you can apply a mechanical methodology to it."
By Michael Hochanadel