Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/bronx-district-attorney 2017-10-24T02:11:21+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 21-25 2015-09-25T17:09:17+00:00 2015-09-25T17:09:17+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5906:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-september-21-25 Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/week_in_review_bus_readers.jpg" alt="week in review bus readers" height="409" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;"><a href="http://blog.mcny.org/2012/04/24/a-ride-on-the-subway-in-1946-with-stanley-kubrick/" target="_blank">photo</a>: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York</span></p> <hr /> <p>Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 25</p> <p><strong>PHOTOS OF THE WEEK:&nbsp;</strong>Mayor de Blasio greets Pope Francis, <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/647192835041685504" target="_blank">via @BilldeBlasio</a>; Pope Francis at the 9/11 memorial, <a href="https://twitter.com/fractenberg/status/647430588664803328" target="_blank">via Ben Fractenberg</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_pope.jpg" alt="bdb pope" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="266" width="400" /></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pope_911_memorial.jpg" alt="pope 911 memorial" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="533" width="400" /></p> <p><strong>TOP STORIES OF THE WEEK:</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>1. Pope Francis Visits NYC:</strong> Pope Francis was greeted by New York's top elected officials when he arrived at St. Patrick's Cathedral for evening prayers Thursday, his first public appearance in New York after addressing Congress in Washington, D.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo both greeted Francis and each has expressed admiration for the pope's messages of justice and compassion.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York, Francis also addressed the UN General Assembly and spoke at an interfaith ceremony at the 9/11 memorial on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, the pontiff is set to visit a school in East Harlem, proceed through Central Park, and give mass at Madison Square Garden. Mayor de Blasio sees the pope's message as similar to his and cites the pope in support of his mission to combat inequality, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">calling</a> Francis the "leading moral voice on this earth.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>2. Bratton Responds to Comptroller, City Council:</strong> NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/09/8577490/bratton-hits-back-stringer-political-attack" target="_blank">hit back</a> at Comptroller Scott Stringer this week for comments he made about the city's use of crime statistics. At a press conference on Monday in Brooklyn near the site of several weekend murders, Stringer said the city's crime statistics were "politicized" and called for a "real" discussion on how to curb violence in New York City. Bratton defended the police force and stated once again that overall major crime has decreased. Bratton also <a href="http://www.metro.us/new-york/exclusive-bratton-tells-critics-fond-of-pre-de-blasio-nypd-to-get-over-it/zsJoiw---mlbaGoNckTSuM/" target="_blank">stated again</a> this week that he sees the City Council as overreaching in its attempts to legislate NYPD-related policy. This time, Bratton was spurred to speak out against the Council about a new bill to implement warnings when a police officer may be a frequent user of excessive force.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>3. Legal Moves in the Bronx:</strong> Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has secured a nomination for an open state Supreme Court judgeship. Johnson waited until just after he won the primary for his DA position with no one running against him to announce that he wanted to seek a judgeship. Now, Democratic party leaders are <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/bronx-district-attorney-robert-johnson-wins-democratic-nod-for-state-supreme-court-1443146019" target="_blank">handpicking</a> his replacement on the November ballot. Bronx Democratic leaders are being criticized for a variety of machinations involved that make it appear they are subverting the democratic process and largely leaving voters out of the equation. They have defended themselves, in part, by saying that there is nothing illegal they are doing. Several Bronx leaders have remained silent on the moves.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>4. First Homeless Shelter/Affordable Housing Development:</strong> The new $62 million "<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-affordable-housing-includes-homeless-shelter-article-1.2370588" target="_blank">Landing Road Residence</a>" project in the Bronx marks the first time the city has attempted to tackle two major issues - homelessness and affordable housing - under one roof. The project will feature 135 units of housing alongside a 200-bed shelter for homeless working adults.</p> <p><strong>THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:</strong></p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>150 beds</strong> will be provided for<a href="http://goo.gl/JJRqqh" target="_blank"> homeless people</a>&nbsp;through a partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and New York City, Mayor de Blasio and Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced this week.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>#83479-053</strong> is former Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm’s<a href="http://goo.gl/avmQtK" target="_blank"> prisoner number</a> as he entered a medium-security federal prison in Lewis Run, PA, for his eight-month sentence.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>2 million</strong> packets of K2 were <a href="http://pix11.com/2015/09/23/nypd-seize-2-million-packets-of-k2-after-raid-in-the-bronx/" target="_blank">seized</a> by the NYPD after a raid in the Bronx.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>About 80,000</strong> people&nbsp;were set to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/26/nyregion/pope-francis-visits-new-york-city.html" target="_blank">gather</a> in Central Park on Friday to see Pope Francis after securing tickets in a city-sponsored lottery.</li> </ul> <p><strong>THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:</strong></p> <ul> <li><strong>It was a good week for Mayor Bill de Blasio</strong> as he met with Pope Francis during his first visit to New York City. In Pope Francis, the mayor has found a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">powerful validator of his fight against inequality</a>, aligning his own efforts to fight inequality with Francis' messages of economic, environmental, and social justice.</li> </ul> <ul> <li><strong>It was a bad week for Bronx Democrats</strong>, as Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is stepping down to become a state Supreme Court justice, enabling Democratic Party leaders to bypass voters and handpick his replacement.</li> </ul> <p><strong>THE FLASH:</strong></p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time 239 years ago</strong>, on September 21, 1776, Trinity Church on Wall Street was <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2015/09/21/september-21st-in-nyc-history.html" target="_blank">destroyed</a> when a fire swept through colonial Manhattan, leaving a quarter of the city in ruins. The British suspected arson, but the cause of the fire was never determined.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time 226 years ago</strong>, on September 25, 1789, the first U.S. Congress&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2015/09/25/september-25th-in-nyc-history.html" target="_blank">met</a> in New York and adopted twelve amendments to the Constitution. Ten of them went on to become the Bill of Rights.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time last year</strong>, on September 23, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/nyregion/at-un-de-blasio-warns-of-existential-threat-from-climate-change.html" target="_blank">addressed</a> the United Nations, speaking briefly about climate change and efforts to combat it.</li> </ul> <p><strong>GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">In Pope Francis, De Blasio Finds Ultimate Validator</a>, by Ben Max</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5905-litter-new-yorks-enduring-quality-of-life-problem" target="_blank">Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-Of-Life Problem: Litter</a>, by Cole Rosengren</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5901-newest-prison-sentences-remind-of-limited-movement-on-even-agreed-upon-reforms" target="_blank">Newest Prison Sentences Remind Of Limited Movement On Even Agreed Upon Reforms</a>, by David King</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5897-inmate-bill-of-rights-among-new-wave-of-rikers-reforms" target="_blank">Inmate Bill Of Rights Among New Wave Of Rikers Reforms</a>, by Meg O’Connor</p> <p>And, Gotham Gazette's David King <a href="http://wamc.org/post/capitol-connection-1538?utm_source=twitterfeed&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">appeared on WAMC's The Capitol Connection</a> radio program to discuss the latest moves by Governor Andrew Cuomo, <a href="http://wamc.org/post/capitol-connection-1538?utm_source=twitterfeed&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">listen here</a>.</p> <p><strong>MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:</strong></p> <ul> <li>The Wall Street Journal <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/mayoral-aide-emma-wolfe-is-bridge-to-governors-office-1443175201" target="_blank">looks at Emma Wolfe</a>, a key aide to Mayor de Blasio, and her role in brokering the relationship between de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, among others</li> <li>The Observer <a href="http://observer.com/2015/09/independence-is-not-isolation-mark-peters-on-his-tenure-so-far-at-doi/#.VgPtyDVV46A.twitter" target="_blank">profiles Mark Peters</a>, the commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation</li> <li>DNAinfo with <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150923/civic-center/here-are-all-gifts-de-blasio-has-received-cuomos-book-included?utm_content=buffer82795&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">a fun look</a> at the many gifts that get sent to Mayor de Blasio</li> </ul> <p><em>***<br />NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>.</em></p> <p><em>If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a></em></p> <p><em>Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government" target="_blank">the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here</a>. And have a great weekend!</em></p> <p><em>***</em><br />by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/week_in_review_bus_readers.jpg" alt="week in review bus readers" height="409" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;"><a href="http://blog.mcny.org/2012/04/24/a-ride-on-the-subway-in-1946-with-stanley-kubrick/" target="_blank">photo</a>: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York</span></p> <hr /> <p>Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 25</p> <p><strong>PHOTOS OF THE WEEK:&nbsp;</strong>Mayor de Blasio greets Pope Francis, <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/647192835041685504" target="_blank">via @BilldeBlasio</a>; Pope Francis at the 9/11 memorial, <a href="https://twitter.com/fractenberg/status/647430588664803328" target="_blank">via Ben Fractenberg</a>.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_pope.jpg" alt="bdb pope" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="266" width="400" /></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/pope_911_memorial.jpg" alt="pope 911 memorial" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="533" width="400" /></p> <p><strong>TOP STORIES OF THE WEEK:</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>1. Pope Francis Visits NYC:</strong> Pope Francis was greeted by New York's top elected officials when he arrived at St. Patrick's Cathedral for evening prayers Thursday, his first public appearance in New York after addressing Congress in Washington, D.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo both greeted Francis and each has expressed admiration for the pope's messages of justice and compassion.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York, Francis also addressed the UN General Assembly and spoke at an interfaith ceremony at the 9/11 memorial on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, the pontiff is set to visit a school in East Harlem, proceed through Central Park, and give mass at Madison Square Garden. Mayor de Blasio sees the pope's message as similar to his and cites the pope in support of his mission to combat inequality, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">calling</a> Francis the "leading moral voice on this earth.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>2. Bratton Responds to Comptroller, City Council:</strong> NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/09/8577490/bratton-hits-back-stringer-political-attack" target="_blank">hit back</a> at Comptroller Scott Stringer this week for comments he made about the city's use of crime statistics. At a press conference on Monday in Brooklyn near the site of several weekend murders, Stringer said the city's crime statistics were "politicized" and called for a "real" discussion on how to curb violence in New York City. Bratton defended the police force and stated once again that overall major crime has decreased. Bratton also <a href="http://www.metro.us/new-york/exclusive-bratton-tells-critics-fond-of-pre-de-blasio-nypd-to-get-over-it/zsJoiw---mlbaGoNckTSuM/" target="_blank">stated again</a> this week that he sees the City Council as overreaching in its attempts to legislate NYPD-related policy. This time, Bratton was spurred to speak out against the Council about a new bill to implement warnings when a police officer may be a frequent user of excessive force.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>3. Legal Moves in the Bronx:</strong> Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has secured a nomination for an open state Supreme Court judgeship. Johnson waited until just after he won the primary for his DA position with no one running against him to announce that he wanted to seek a judgeship. Now, Democratic party leaders are <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/bronx-district-attorney-robert-johnson-wins-democratic-nod-for-state-supreme-court-1443146019" target="_blank">handpicking</a> his replacement on the November ballot. Bronx Democratic leaders are being criticized for a variety of machinations involved that make it appear they are subverting the democratic process and largely leaving voters out of the equation. They have defended themselves, in part, by saying that there is nothing illegal they are doing. Several Bronx leaders have remained silent on the moves.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>4. First Homeless Shelter/Affordable Housing Development:</strong> The new $62 million "<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-affordable-housing-includes-homeless-shelter-article-1.2370588" target="_blank">Landing Road Residence</a>" project in the Bronx marks the first time the city has attempted to tackle two major issues - homelessness and affordable housing - under one roof. The project will feature 135 units of housing alongside a 200-bed shelter for homeless working adults.</p> <p><strong>THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:</strong></p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>150 beds</strong> will be provided for<a href="http://goo.gl/JJRqqh" target="_blank"> homeless people</a>&nbsp;through a partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and New York City, Mayor de Blasio and Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced this week.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>#83479-053</strong> is former Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm’s<a href="http://goo.gl/avmQtK" target="_blank"> prisoner number</a> as he entered a medium-security federal prison in Lewis Run, PA, for his eight-month sentence.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>2 million</strong> packets of K2 were <a href="http://pix11.com/2015/09/23/nypd-seize-2-million-packets-of-k2-after-raid-in-the-bronx/" target="_blank">seized</a> by the NYPD after a raid in the Bronx.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>About 80,000</strong> people&nbsp;were set to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/26/nyregion/pope-francis-visits-new-york-city.html" target="_blank">gather</a> in Central Park on Friday to see Pope Francis after securing tickets in a city-sponsored lottery.</li> </ul> <p><strong>THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:</strong></p> <ul> <li><strong>It was a good week for Mayor Bill de Blasio</strong> as he met with Pope Francis during his first visit to New York City. In Pope Francis, the mayor has found a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">powerful validator of his fight against inequality</a>, aligning his own efforts to fight inequality with Francis' messages of economic, environmental, and social justice.</li> </ul> <ul> <li><strong>It was a bad week for Bronx Democrats</strong>, as Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is stepping down to become a state Supreme Court justice, enabling Democratic Party leaders to bypass voters and handpick his replacement.</li> </ul> <p><strong>THE FLASH:</strong></p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time 239 years ago</strong>, on September 21, 1776, Trinity Church on Wall Street was <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2015/09/21/september-21st-in-nyc-history.html" target="_blank">destroyed</a> when a fire swept through colonial Manhattan, leaving a quarter of the city in ruins. The British suspected arson, but the cause of the fire was never determined.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time 226 years ago</strong>, on September 25, 1789, the first U.S. Congress&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2015/09/25/september-25th-in-nyc-history.html" target="_blank">met</a> in New York and adopted twelve amendments to the Constitution. Ten of them went on to become the Bill of Rights.</li> </ul> <ul> <li dir="ltr"><strong>Around this time last year</strong>, on September 23, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/nyregion/at-un-de-blasio-warns-of-existential-threat-from-climate-change.html" target="_blank">addressed</a> the United Nations, speaking briefly about climate change and efforts to combat it.</li> </ul> <p><strong>GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5903-in-pope-francis-de-blasio-finds-ultimate-validator" target="_blank">In Pope Francis, De Blasio Finds Ultimate Validator</a>, by Ben Max</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5905-litter-new-yorks-enduring-quality-of-life-problem" target="_blank">Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-Of-Life Problem: Litter</a>, by Cole Rosengren</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5901-newest-prison-sentences-remind-of-limited-movement-on-even-agreed-upon-reforms" target="_blank">Newest Prison Sentences Remind Of Limited Movement On Even Agreed Upon Reforms</a>, by David King</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5897-inmate-bill-of-rights-among-new-wave-of-rikers-reforms" target="_blank">Inmate Bill Of Rights Among New Wave Of Rikers Reforms</a>, by Meg O’Connor</p> <p>And, Gotham Gazette's David King <a href="http://wamc.org/post/capitol-connection-1538?utm_source=twitterfeed&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">appeared on WAMC's The Capitol Connection</a> radio program to discuss the latest moves by Governor Andrew Cuomo, <a href="http://wamc.org/post/capitol-connection-1538?utm_source=twitterfeed&amp;utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">listen here</a>.</p> <p><strong>MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:</strong></p> <ul> <li>The Wall Street Journal <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/mayoral-aide-emma-wolfe-is-bridge-to-governors-office-1443175201" target="_blank">looks at Emma Wolfe</a>, a key aide to Mayor de Blasio, and her role in brokering the relationship between de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, among others</li> <li>The Observer <a href="http://observer.com/2015/09/independence-is-not-isolation-mark-peters-on-his-tenure-so-far-at-doi/#.VgPtyDVV46A.twitter" target="_blank">profiles Mark Peters</a>, the commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation</li> <li>DNAinfo with <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150923/civic-center/here-are-all-gifts-de-blasio-has-received-cuomos-book-included?utm_content=buffer82795&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=buffer" target="_blank">a fun look</a> at the many gifts that get sent to Mayor de Blasio</li> </ul> <p><em>***<br />NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a>.</em></p> <p><em>If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a></em></p> <p><em>Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government" target="_blank">the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here</a>. And have a great weekend!</em></p> <p><em>***</em><br />by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max</p> Rumored Scheme Brings Scrutiny to Bronx Political Machine 2015-09-17T23:24:55+00:00 2015-09-17T23:24:55+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5891:rumored-scheme-brings-scrutiny-to-bronx-political-machine Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/daiz_jr_heastie_crespo.jpg" alt="diaz jr heastie crespo" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Diaz Jr., Heastie, Crespo (l-r) (<a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/641564040783876097" target="_blank">photo</a>: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>By all reasonable indicators, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">should cruise to reelection</a> this November despite his low conviction rate, notoriously slow pace in filing charges, and apparent lack of serious fundraising. But many are watching closely to see if Johnson drops off the ballot this month and makes himself eligible to be appointed to a judgeship--thereby allowing the Bronx County Democrats to name his replacement.</p> <p>As rumors and suspicions swirl, the notion of Johnson and other longtime Bronx party leaders manipulating the electoral system to their advantage comes as little surprise to those who've seen the Bronx machine at work. But, with powerful Bronx elected officials newly more prominent, the risks of such machinations are greater than in the past.</p> <p>District Attorney Johnson has been in a unique situation for decades. Thanks to the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party, he has faced few serious political challenges since taking office in 1989 and is running this year on the Democratic, Conservative, and Republican ballot lines.</p> <p>Bronx insiders are convinced that Bronx County Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Crespo's predecessor as county chair) have decided to appoint Johnson to a judgeship and then replace him on the ticket with one of their allies, thereby subverting the democratic process.</p> <p>The technique that could be used to replace Johnson isn't unique; it has been used time and time again across the city to, basically, gift seats to party-friendly candidates. The Bronx has long been a haven for the workings of the County Democratic machine, but with Heastie's ascent to one of the post powerful positions in the state and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s rising profile, it appears it will be much more difficult to pull off such maneuvers without paying a price.</p> <p>Actions in the Bronx are now linked to the larger political aspirations of these rising stars and they've earned the attention of good government groups and media outside the borough.</p> <p>What is particularly concerning to reformers inside and outside of government is that Crespo, Heastie, and Diaz would essentially be appointing the person who is, in part, supposed to police their actions. Johnson's record on corruption busting is suspicious to many. He has pursued cases against former Assemblymember Nelson Castro and former Senator Pedro Espada, but at the time both men were out of the county party's good graces. In fact, they were known for causing Bronx Democrats nasty headaches.</p> <p>With Heastie, who this year replaced the indicted Sheldon Silver as speaker, pledging transparency and reform in the Assembly, some observers wonder if he isn't trying to avoid future embarrassment by being directly responsible for appointing the new district attorney.</p> <p>"The bottom line is that it is always nice to have your derriere covered by a prosecutor that owes you their job," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.</p> <p>Johnson's office has refused to comment for this story. Heastie has told other reporters that he gave up decision-making abilities as the chair of the Bronx County Democrats when he became Assembly speaker. And Assemblymember Crespo has avoided responding to queries from numerous outlets, including Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>It stands to reason that Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who would also have a say in the matter given his relationship with Heastie and his quest to run, eventually, for mayor. Diaz Jr.'s office also ignored requests for comment.</p> <p>The scenario has been further complicated by Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who has made it no secret that he is interested the district attorney position. Sepulveda is said to have informed Johnson he would be challenging him down the road, even while helping him collect petitions for his reelection this summer.</p> <p>Bob Kappstatter, a prolific Bronx journalist who currently works as a political consultant and counts Sepulveda as a client, took to Facebook to decry the behind-the-scenes machinations that may be afoot.</p> <p>"We can count on one hand how many Bronx politicians Rob Johnson has gone after, with most of those being County's enemies. Meanwhile the feds have vacuumed the borough ALMOST clean," Kappstatter wrote on Facebook. "Carl [Heastie], whom we hear didn't expect all this heat from the media and good government groups, has dumped the deal in the lap of new County Leader Marcos Crespo, an honest, decent guy who will have to take the heat if it goes through. Marcos is already looking like Heastie's puppet, diminishing his power among the city's four other Dem county leaders while Carl still pulls County's strings."</p> <p>Sepulveda's interest in the DA position has angered the Bronx County Democrats. Earlier this month the Daily News ran a story detailing how Sepulveda's estranged wife sought an order of protection from him earlier this summer. Both Luis and his wife told the Daily News that she withdrew the request. Insiders see it as retaliation from County for his interest in Johnson's job.</p> <p>Exposing any deal among Johnson and other officials could benefit Sepulveda, because outside pressure might lead to Johnson stepping down after the election rather than before.</p> <p>The process Bronx County Democrats could use to replace Johnson is particularly effective because Democratic enrollment in the borough greatly eclipses that of all other parties.</p> <p>Democratic voters decide the election during the September primary, with the November election essentially being a formality - not that Johnson was challenged in the primary. If Johnson steps down before Election Day, his county-picked replacement would move into office with all the benefits of incumbency and the backing of the establishment. Any future primary challenger would face a well-known, well-financed incumbent who hadn't actually been elected by a significant number of voters.</p> <p>"This is a fairly common practice in New York politics," said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. "It is anti-competitive and it allows the newly appointed incumbent to use that incumbency to defeat their next challenger."</p> <p>"As a general principle of government, it stinks," said Gene Russianoff of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "The primary election process might not be perfect but at least it offers hope. Forgoing it is a thumb in the eye to voters."</p> <p>Johnson would have to submit a letter to the Board of Elections asking to be removed from the ballot by Monday, September 21.</p> <p>If Johnson resigns after he is elected in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could name an interim district attorney and would eventually set a date for a special election. This would likely allow Sepulveda and other hopefuls a chance to actually vie for the seat.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin said that voters should be especially concerned about the machinations involved in Johnson's possible replacement and appointment to a judgeship given what The New York Times described as "an unusual string of legal lapses" that allowed Heastie to keep a home his mother purchased with embezzled funds.</p> <p>Heastie agreed to sell the house as part of a deal that allowed Heastie's mother to avoid jail time. His mother died three weeks after being sentenced and Heastie stopped trying to sell the home. He sold it six years later at a profit of $200,000.</p> <p>"Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred, given the Bronx Democratic Party's influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">wrote the Times</a>.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/daiz_jr_heastie_crespo.jpg" alt="diaz jr heastie crespo" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p>Diaz Jr., Heastie, Crespo (l-r) (<a href="https://twitter.com/CarlHeastie/status/641564040783876097" target="_blank">photo</a>: @rubendiazjr)</p> <hr /> <p>By all reasonable indicators, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5845-progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection" target="_blank">should cruise to reelection</a> this November despite his low conviction rate, notoriously slow pace in filing charges, and apparent lack of serious fundraising. But many are watching closely to see if Johnson drops off the ballot this month and makes himself eligible to be appointed to a judgeship--thereby allowing the Bronx County Democrats to name his replacement.</p> <p>As rumors and suspicions swirl, the notion of Johnson and other longtime Bronx party leaders manipulating the electoral system to their advantage comes as little surprise to those who've seen the Bronx machine at work. But, with powerful Bronx elected officials newly more prominent, the risks of such machinations are greater than in the past.</p> <p>District Attorney Johnson has been in a unique situation for decades. Thanks to the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party, he has faced few serious political challenges since taking office in 1989 and is running this year on the Democratic, Conservative, and Republican ballot lines.</p> <p>Bronx insiders are convinced that Bronx County Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Crespo's predecessor as county chair) have decided to appoint Johnson to a judgeship and then replace him on the ticket with one of their allies, thereby subverting the democratic process.</p> <p>The technique that could be used to replace Johnson isn't unique; it has been used time and time again across the city to, basically, gift seats to party-friendly candidates. The Bronx has long been a haven for the workings of the County Democratic machine, but with Heastie's ascent to one of the post powerful positions in the state and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s rising profile, it appears it will be much more difficult to pull off such maneuvers without paying a price.</p> <p>Actions in the Bronx are now linked to the larger political aspirations of these rising stars and they've earned the attention of good government groups and media outside the borough.</p> <p>What is particularly concerning to reformers inside and outside of government is that Crespo, Heastie, and Diaz would essentially be appointing the person who is, in part, supposed to police their actions. Johnson's record on corruption busting is suspicious to many. He has pursued cases against former Assemblymember Nelson Castro and former Senator Pedro Espada, but at the time both men were out of the county party's good graces. In fact, they were known for causing Bronx Democrats nasty headaches.</p> <p>With Heastie, who this year replaced the indicted Sheldon Silver as speaker, pledging transparency and reform in the Assembly, some observers wonder if he isn't trying to avoid future embarrassment by being directly responsible for appointing the new district attorney.</p> <p>"The bottom line is that it is always nice to have your derriere covered by a prosecutor that owes you their job," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.</p> <p>Johnson's office has refused to comment for this story. Heastie has told other reporters that he gave up decision-making abilities as the chair of the Bronx County Democrats when he became Assembly speaker. And Assemblymember Crespo has avoided responding to queries from numerous outlets, including Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>It stands to reason that Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who would also have a say in the matter given his relationship with Heastie and his quest to run, eventually, for mayor. Diaz Jr.'s office also ignored requests for comment.</p> <p>The scenario has been further complicated by Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who has made it no secret that he is interested the district attorney position. Sepulveda is said to have informed Johnson he would be challenging him down the road, even while helping him collect petitions for his reelection this summer.</p> <p>Bob Kappstatter, a prolific Bronx journalist who currently works as a political consultant and counts Sepulveda as a client, took to Facebook to decry the behind-the-scenes machinations that may be afoot.</p> <p>"We can count on one hand how many Bronx politicians Rob Johnson has gone after, with most of those being County's enemies. Meanwhile the feds have vacuumed the borough ALMOST clean," Kappstatter wrote on Facebook. "Carl [Heastie], whom we hear didn't expect all this heat from the media and good government groups, has dumped the deal in the lap of new County Leader Marcos Crespo, an honest, decent guy who will have to take the heat if it goes through. Marcos is already looking like Heastie's puppet, diminishing his power among the city's four other Dem county leaders while Carl still pulls County's strings."</p> <p>Sepulveda's interest in the DA position has angered the Bronx County Democrats. Earlier this month the Daily News ran a story detailing how Sepulveda's estranged wife sought an order of protection from him earlier this summer. Both Luis and his wife told the Daily News that she withdrew the request. Insiders see it as retaliation from County for his interest in Johnson's job.</p> <p>Exposing any deal among Johnson and other officials could benefit Sepulveda, because outside pressure might lead to Johnson stepping down after the election rather than before.</p> <p>The process Bronx County Democrats could use to replace Johnson is particularly effective because Democratic enrollment in the borough greatly eclipses that of all other parties.</p> <p>Democratic voters decide the election during the September primary, with the November election essentially being a formality - not that Johnson was challenged in the primary. If Johnson steps down before Election Day, his county-picked replacement would move into office with all the benefits of incumbency and the backing of the establishment. Any future primary challenger would face a well-known, well-financed incumbent who hadn't actually been elected by a significant number of voters.</p> <p>"This is a fairly common practice in New York politics," said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. "It is anti-competitive and it allows the newly appointed incumbent to use that incumbency to defeat their next challenger."</p> <p>"As a general principle of government, it stinks," said Gene Russianoff of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "The primary election process might not be perfect but at least it offers hope. Forgoing it is a thumb in the eye to voters."</p> <p>Johnson would have to submit a letter to the Board of Elections asking to be removed from the ballot by Monday, September 21.</p> <p>If Johnson resigns after he is elected in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could name an interim district attorney and would eventually set a date for a special election. This would likely allow Sepulveda and other hopefuls a chance to actually vie for the seat.</p> <p>Professor Benjamin said that voters should be especially concerned about the machinations involved in Johnson's possible replacement and appointment to a judgeship given what The New York Times described as "an unusual string of legal lapses" that allowed Heastie to keep a home his mother purchased with embezzled funds.</p> <p>Heastie agreed to sell the house as part of a deal that allowed Heastie's mother to avoid jail time. His mother died three weeks after being sentenced and Heastie stopped trying to sell the home. He sold it six years later at a profit of $200,000.</p> <p>"Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred, given the Bronx Democratic Party's influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">wrote the Times</a>.</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Progress Elusive as Bronx DA Cruises Toward Reelection 2015-08-10T21:58:22+00:00 2015-08-10T21:58:22+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5845:progress-elusive-as-bronx-da-cruises-toward-reelection Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_DA_Johnson_AP.jpg" alt="BX DA Johnson (AP)" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Bronx DA Robert Johnson, foreground (photo: Associated Press)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>There’s a rooftop rock garden at the Bronx County Hall of Justice, the sprawling ten-story glass building that houses the county’s criminal and supreme courts. In theory, the space was designed to be a contemplative, community place, but in practice, it is not open to the public. Lawyers quip it has something to do with a potentially precarious confluence of angry people, the courthouse’s glass facade, and rocks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The suggestion that people would throw rocks from a zen garden is both an ironic joke and emblematic of the frustration acutely felt in the Bronx court system. A central figure at the heart of this discontent is District Attorney Robert Johnson, up for re-election this year and seeking - so far unopposed - his eighth straight four-year term.</p> <p dir="ltr">Elected to represent “the People,” Johnson is a virtual lock to secure a mechanical mandate returning him to the office, whether he faces a token opponent or not. It is likely that he will, yet again, be uncontested in a race that will culminate with little voter turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though just one cog in an overburdened system seen as dysfunctional in many ways, and operating in the city’s poorest borough, Johnson’s office has faced particular scrutiny, with many, including those who once worked in the office, questioning its efficiency and competence. Notably, it also appears to be an office home to little innovation, even as other district attorneys <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">try new things</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">To what extent criticism of Johnson is deserved is not immediately clear— the aggregate failings of the figurehead, the 400 attorneys who work for him, and “the system” are nearly impossible to parse and distinguish. But that does not diminish the pervasive dysfunction, manifested in astonishing backlogs, delays, low conviction rates, and concerns about how the office evaluates cases and handles the most high-profile among them.</p> <p dir="ltr">The extreme likelihood that Johnson, a Democrat, will be re-elected with little to no pause serves to retain that status quo, and ensures that the Bronx District Attorney will be held to minimal public accountability leading to Election Day, but for by the press.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Culture of Delay</strong><br />The overburdened Bronx criminal justice system, with an unprecedented backlog and slew of delayed cases, is notorious for being mired in a culture of delay.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, a New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/justice-denied-bronx-court-system-mired-in-delays.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">series</a> chronicled the dysfunctional system, finding that 73 percent of felony cases in the Bronx had exceeded the state court’s guidelines for excessive delay— 180 days.</p> <p dir="ltr">Day to day, the signs of backlog are everywhere. On a recent visit to a courtroom processing arraignments at Bronx central booking, Gotham Gazette saw that nearly 20 of the thirty-plus people on the list waiting to be arraigned had been arrested and detained for over 24 hours, spending most of that time in the basement of the courthouse; the rest were approaching the 24-hour mark.</p> <p dir="ltr">Next door at the Hall of Justice, defendants missing work or school can sit through hours of hearings as they anticipate their turn to stand before the judge. When Gotham Gazette visited one courtroom, an observer yawned, provoking a sharp rebuke.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I heard someone yawn with a loud mouth. If you find out who it is, remove them,” the judge instructed a court officer. “There is no yawning with a loud mouth in my courtroom.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The district attorney’s office was criticized for its role in maintaining the culture of delay— often attributed to a lack of judicial resources and defense attorneys— after 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide in June. Before his release and struggle to regain his footing, Browder spent three years at Rikers Island waiting for his day in court after allegedly stealing a backpack. Behind bars, Browder was beaten by guards and inmates, and spent months upon months in solitary confinement. News that the Bronx district attorney’s office finally admitted it had no witnesses, evidence, or a victim infuriated the public, spurring activists and politicians alike to call for criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a Daily News column, NY1 anchor Errol Louis wrote the responsibility for Browder’s death could not be placed on an abstract criminal justice system, but on its leaders, singling out Johnson.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It must be noted that a heavy measure of responsibility lies with Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, whose bungling subordinates contributed to the long delays in Kalief’s case. Johnson, who is up for re-election this year, is named in the lawsuit Kalief filed against the city before his death,” Louis <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-killed-kalief-browder-article-1.2250990">wrote</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Bronx City Council Member Andy King, the three years Browder spent in prison are the result of prosecutors’ preoccupation with getting convictions.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What happened here with Kalief Browder, is that the district attorneys are more interested in convictions rather than the truth,” King said at a June press conference in front of Johnson’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">King introduced a bill to amend state criminal procedure law to compel open and early discovery— a policy King says Johnson does practice. In a separate interview, King told Gotham Gazette he likes Johnson and approves of the job he has done, but thinks that, as is the case with anything, there is room for improvement.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the same press conference, Browder’s attorney Paul Prestia rebuked the district attorney, criticizing the delays he says Johnson’s office introduced that kept his client in prison.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Kalief Browder languished in jail for three years while prosecutors delayed his case without any accountability,” Prestia said. “But I won’t digress into that and all of those details. You can speak to the so-called DA of this borough, and perhaps he’ll have the answers for you or something to say about it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">District Attorney Johnson was not made available for an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prestia told Gotham Gazette he hoped district attorneys would be held accountable for creating unreasonable delays.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’d think that with such a bureaucracy there’d be enough oversight that this wouldn’t happen,” he said of the backlogs in the Bronx court system. “Basically there’s no real sense of urgency on their part to go forward on cases.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But a lack of urgency on the part of the district attorney’s office, real or perceived, likely does not tell the full story behind the pervasive culture of delay. Terry Raskyn, a spokesperson for Johnson’s office, attributed the delays to logistical issues and a lack of judicial resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The law does not permit a “Law &amp; Order” style of case management,” Raskyn said, referring to the TV series. “Every defendant and ‘the People’ have requirements that have to be met with regard to the opportunity to appear, plead, have motions made and decided upon, pretrial hearings, etc. Add to that the scheduling issues and you have delays,” Raskyn wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And then there is often delay in getting defendants produced, either from Rikers Island or other facilities – prisoner movement often delays scheduled appearances by hours, and those hours compound the problem.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Also citing a lack of resources, Robert Dreher, an executive assistant district attorney in the office, dismissed the notion that prosecutors purposefully introduced delays.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the primary problems we deal with is resources: judges, court rooms, stenographers, court officers that are needed...the more of that we have, the more efficient the system would be,” Dreher said. “We’re in favor of speedy trials...people sometimes think prosecutors like delays, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We want cases to go to trial quickly. Delays are for defendants’ benefit. Obviously no one wants someone sitting in jail waiting for trial for a long time, that’s not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Bronx district attorney’s office is set to receive just over $58 million in funding through the city’s fiscal year 2016 budget, putting it behind New York County (Manhattan) and Queens County. The new fiscal year began July 1.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the office has seen slight increases to its budget in the last few years, in 2010 it was slashed and the office laid off 12 assistant district attorneys, Above the Law <a href="http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/nationwide-layoff-watch-a-dozen-down-at-the-bronx-das-office/" target="_blank">reported</a>. In 2014, NBC news <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/District-Attorney-New-York-City-Meeting-Mayor-De-Blasio-Request-Months-Investigation-278416261.html" target="_blank">reported</a> that Johnson led efforts on behalf of the city’s five district attorneys to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss their budgets. A meeting was finally <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/New-York-City-District-Attorneys-Finally-Get-Meeting-With-Mayor-de-Blasio-278565041.html" target="_blank">arranged</a> after NBC’s report.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the office did not respond to Gotham Gazette’s request for an interview, Johnson has discussed the function of his office in the recent past. “The major changes that need to be done are not in the way the system operates but in how the system handles the capacity of all the cases that come in. This is a statewide problem...I believe that we have really trailed behind in this issue for the past couple of decades,” Johnson <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2014/12/05/district-attorney-rob-johnson-justice-bronx/" target="_blank">told</a> the Bronx Chronicle in 2014. “We need to take a long-term look concerning additional judges, additional courtrooms, and additional staff to better handle the caseloads we are getting in.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A former assistant district attorney under Johnson, attorney Paul Martin, agrees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There were never enough courtrooms to meet the needs of having a defendant tried in a timely fashion, there is no doubt about that. So with more judges and more courtrooms, we’d be able to address the backlog of cases,” Martin said.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Hall of Justice, many of the trial parts — the term used to label a specific courtroom — were simply not open when Gotham Gazette visited on July 13. But it is also unclear how it is determined when a trial part is in use: a judge told attorneys all trial parts were in use when a visit to one nearby found another judge sitting in an empty room.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Efficiency</strong><br />Even as it demands more trial parts, <a href="http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/dispos/index.htm" target="_blank">data</a> shows that the Bronx district attorney’s office actually declines to prosecute cases more often than any of its counterparts across the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 2014, the Bronx district attorney's office declined to press charges in 24 percent of violent felony arrests and roughly 16 percent of both felony and misdemeanor arrests. In contrast, in the same year, the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to press charges in 4.1 percent of violent felony arrests, almost 3 percent of felony arrests, and just over 2 percent of misdemeanor arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those numbers— along with (and perhaps caused by) plummeting jury trial success rates— have led many to question whether the office is letting dangerous people walk free.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Executive Assistant District Attorney Dreher says that the rates at which the office declines to press charges are indicative of the office’s practice of immediately rooting out weak cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s not quite what it appears. Each office has a different way of approaching [evaluating a case]. Some offices, when the police officers make the arrest, they’ll bring the case in, they’ll process it, and then they go through and determine is it going be sufficient for trial, is it going to be sufficient to charge,” Dreher said. “We do triage much earlier in the case, we do it in the very beginning.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the office’s self-described careful triage has not prevented it from either accumulating a low conviction rate or from making a series of high profile blunders.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the office came under fire after Bronx Criminal Court Judge John Wilson publicly condemned Assistant District Attorney Megan Teesdale for failing to reveal evidence that would have freed a man held on Rikers Island who was falsely accused of rape, the New York Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/bronx-prosecutor-barred-courtroom-article-1.1746238" target="_blank">reported</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Later that month, the office was criticized for its “inexplicable” lack of follow-up in its role handling crimes committed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s mother. Prosecutors from the office failed to file routine papers to help recover stolen funds. As a result, Heastie was allowed keep a house his mother purchased with embezzled money; he later sold it and pocketed the profits, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">reported</a> the New York Times.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, Johnson’s office declined to prosecute a group of corrections officers at Rikers who ignored a dying inmate’s pleas for medical assistance, citing a lack of evidence. The inmate’s death was ruled a homicide due to “neglect and denial of medical care.” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/newyork/press-releases/2014/manhattan-u.s.-attorney-and-fbi-announce-charge-against-rikers-island-correction-officer-for-deliberately-ignoring-urgent-medical-needs-of-inmate-who-later-died" target="_blank">charged</a> one of the officers, Captain Terrence Pendergrass, and was <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/statement-manhattan-us-attorney-preet-bharara-conviction-rikers-island-correction" target="_blank">successful</a> in seeking a conviction.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community Context</strong><br />In interviews, attorneys and politicians stressed the importance of understanding the problems specific to the Bronx when evaluating the district attorney. For attorney Jason Foy, a former ADA in the office, that understanding is particularly important when scrutinizing the Bronx DA’s conviction rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I see articles about the conviction rate in the Bronx being lower than in other places. Well, that’s not necessarily the DA’s problem because that comes from a historical problem between the police and the community,” Foy said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx jurors are notoriously distrustful of the police— a dynamic rooted in policing practices like “stop-and-frisk,” broken windows enforcement, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/11/nypd-operation-clean-halls_n_2852097.html" target="_blank">Operation Clean Halls</a>, in which police patrolled and searched apartment buildings and questioned residents. Johnson was lauded by Bronx residents in 2012 when he <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/robert-johnson-bronx-da-to-nypd-no-more-frivolous-stop-and-frisk-trespassing-arrests-6684033" target="_blank">announced</a> that his office would no longer prosecute people accused of trespassing in public housing who were searched and frisked unless the arresting officer explained the arrest to the office.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When you’re an innocent person walking home, you don’t want to be searched and asked where you’re going. That experience, when you become a juror, impacts how you see the case. It’s hard for innocent people on those juries to just believe a cop automatically,” Foy said. “You may not have that same experience in Westchester County. In the Bronx it’s not that same type of deal...Now is that the DA’s fault?”</p> <p dir="ltr">There will be little opportunity for voters to express their opinions of Distrcit Attorney Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5831-many-voting-opportunities-for-new-yorkers-in-2015-and-2016" target="_blank">at the polls this fall</a>, given the lack of competition.</p> <p dir="ltr">For former ADA Paul Martin, more troubling than the low conviction rate is what he described as “the lack of understanding or consistency” in the office’s recommendations for punishment.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I thought there was a lack of understanding for the nature of the situation of the individuals and the community and situation in which they came from,” Martin said. “It was that lack of understanding that led individuals who never had any of that experience to be somewhat heavy-handed in the manner in which they would pick their cases.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Foy noted that most lawyers in the office didn’t grow up in the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Most of them are not from there, they’re from other parts of the country, other less dysfunctional environments,” Foy said. “So that’s going to give you a different perspective.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Now, if you’re saying that the way the prosecutor's office doesn’t take into account some of these social issues that have historically plagued the area— that might be true, but,” Foy continued, “the prosecutor is there to do a job, they’re not there to address the social ills.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/CatieEdmondson" target="_blank">@CatieEdmondson</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/BX_DA_Johnson_AP.jpg" alt="BX DA Johnson (AP)" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Bronx DA Robert Johnson, foreground (photo: Associated Press)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>There’s a rooftop rock garden at the Bronx County Hall of Justice, the sprawling ten-story glass building that houses the county’s criminal and supreme courts. In theory, the space was designed to be a contemplative, community place, but in practice, it is not open to the public. Lawyers quip it has something to do with a potentially precarious confluence of angry people, the courthouse’s glass facade, and rocks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The suggestion that people would throw rocks from a zen garden is both an ironic joke and emblematic of the frustration acutely felt in the Bronx court system. A central figure at the heart of this discontent is District Attorney Robert Johnson, up for re-election this year and seeking - so far unopposed - his eighth straight four-year term.</p> <p dir="ltr">Elected to represent “the People,” Johnson is a virtual lock to secure a mechanical mandate returning him to the office, whether he faces a token opponent or not. It is likely that he will, yet again, be uncontested in a race that will culminate with little voter turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though just one cog in an overburdened system seen as dysfunctional in many ways, and operating in the city’s poorest borough, Johnson’s office has faced particular scrutiny, with many, including those who once worked in the office, questioning its efficiency and competence. Notably, it also appears to be an office home to little innovation, even as other district attorneys <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">try new things</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">To what extent criticism of Johnson is deserved is not immediately clear— the aggregate failings of the figurehead, the 400 attorneys who work for him, and “the system” are nearly impossible to parse and distinguish. But that does not diminish the pervasive dysfunction, manifested in astonishing backlogs, delays, low conviction rates, and concerns about how the office evaluates cases and handles the most high-profile among them.</p> <p dir="ltr">The extreme likelihood that Johnson, a Democrat, will be re-elected with little to no pause serves to retain that status quo, and ensures that the Bronx District Attorney will be held to minimal public accountability leading to Election Day, but for by the press.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Culture of Delay</strong><br />The overburdened Bronx criminal justice system, with an unprecedented backlog and slew of delayed cases, is notorious for being mired in a culture of delay.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, a New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/justice-denied-bronx-court-system-mired-in-delays.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">series</a> chronicled the dysfunctional system, finding that 73 percent of felony cases in the Bronx had exceeded the state court’s guidelines for excessive delay— 180 days.</p> <p dir="ltr">Day to day, the signs of backlog are everywhere. On a recent visit to a courtroom processing arraignments at Bronx central booking, Gotham Gazette saw that nearly 20 of the thirty-plus people on the list waiting to be arraigned had been arrested and detained for over 24 hours, spending most of that time in the basement of the courthouse; the rest were approaching the 24-hour mark.</p> <p dir="ltr">Next door at the Hall of Justice, defendants missing work or school can sit through hours of hearings as they anticipate their turn to stand before the judge. When Gotham Gazette visited one courtroom, an observer yawned, provoking a sharp rebuke.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I heard someone yawn with a loud mouth. If you find out who it is, remove them,” the judge instructed a court officer. “There is no yawning with a loud mouth in my courtroom.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The district attorney’s office was criticized for its role in maintaining the culture of delay— often attributed to a lack of judicial resources and defense attorneys— after 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide in June. Before his release and struggle to regain his footing, Browder spent three years at Rikers Island waiting for his day in court after allegedly stealing a backpack. Behind bars, Browder was beaten by guards and inmates, and spent months upon months in solitary confinement. News that the Bronx district attorney’s office finally admitted it had no witnesses, evidence, or a victim infuriated the public, spurring activists and politicians alike to call for criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a Daily News column, NY1 anchor Errol Louis wrote the responsibility for Browder’s death could not be placed on an abstract criminal justice system, but on its leaders, singling out Johnson.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It must be noted that a heavy measure of responsibility lies with Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, whose bungling subordinates contributed to the long delays in Kalief’s case. Johnson, who is up for re-election this year, is named in the lawsuit Kalief filed against the city before his death,” Louis <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/errol-louis-killed-kalief-browder-article-1.2250990">wrote</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">For Bronx City Council Member Andy King, the three years Browder spent in prison are the result of prosecutors’ preoccupation with getting convictions.</p> <p dir="ltr">“What happened here with Kalief Browder, is that the district attorneys are more interested in convictions rather than the truth,” King said at a June press conference in front of Johnson’s office.</p> <p dir="ltr">King introduced a bill to amend state criminal procedure law to compel open and early discovery— a policy King says Johnson does practice. In a separate interview, King told Gotham Gazette he likes Johnson and approves of the job he has done, but thinks that, as is the case with anything, there is room for improvement.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the same press conference, Browder’s attorney Paul Prestia rebuked the district attorney, criticizing the delays he says Johnson’s office introduced that kept his client in prison.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Kalief Browder languished in jail for three years while prosecutors delayed his case without any accountability,” Prestia said. “But I won’t digress into that and all of those details. You can speak to the so-called DA of this borough, and perhaps he’ll have the answers for you or something to say about it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">District Attorney Johnson was not made available for an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prestia told Gotham Gazette he hoped district attorneys would be held accountable for creating unreasonable delays.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You’d think that with such a bureaucracy there’d be enough oversight that this wouldn’t happen,” he said of the backlogs in the Bronx court system. “Basically there’s no real sense of urgency on their part to go forward on cases.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But a lack of urgency on the part of the district attorney’s office, real or perceived, likely does not tell the full story behind the pervasive culture of delay. Terry Raskyn, a spokesperson for Johnson’s office, attributed the delays to logistical issues and a lack of judicial resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The law does not permit a “Law &amp; Order” style of case management,” Raskyn said, referring to the TV series. “Every defendant and ‘the People’ have requirements that have to be met with regard to the opportunity to appear, plead, have motions made and decided upon, pretrial hearings, etc. Add to that the scheduling issues and you have delays,” Raskyn wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“And then there is often delay in getting defendants produced, either from Rikers Island or other facilities – prisoner movement often delays scheduled appearances by hours, and those hours compound the problem.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Also citing a lack of resources, Robert Dreher, an executive assistant district attorney in the office, dismissed the notion that prosecutors purposefully introduced delays.</p> <p dir="ltr">“One of the primary problems we deal with is resources: judges, court rooms, stenographers, court officers that are needed...the more of that we have, the more efficient the system would be,” Dreher said. “We’re in favor of speedy trials...people sometimes think prosecutors like delays, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We want cases to go to trial quickly. Delays are for defendants’ benefit. Obviously no one wants someone sitting in jail waiting for trial for a long time, that’s not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Bronx district attorney’s office is set to receive just over $58 million in funding through the city’s fiscal year 2016 budget, putting it behind New York County (Manhattan) and Queens County. The new fiscal year began July 1.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the office has seen slight increases to its budget in the last few years, in 2010 it was slashed and the office laid off 12 assistant district attorneys, Above the Law <a href="http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/nationwide-layoff-watch-a-dozen-down-at-the-bronx-das-office/" target="_blank">reported</a>. In 2014, NBC news <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/District-Attorney-New-York-City-Meeting-Mayor-De-Blasio-Request-Months-Investigation-278416261.html" target="_blank">reported</a> that Johnson led efforts on behalf of the city’s five district attorneys to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss their budgets. A meeting was finally <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/New-York-City-District-Attorneys-Finally-Get-Meeting-With-Mayor-de-Blasio-278565041.html" target="_blank">arranged</a> after NBC’s report.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the office did not respond to Gotham Gazette’s request for an interview, Johnson has discussed the function of his office in the recent past. “The major changes that need to be done are not in the way the system operates but in how the system handles the capacity of all the cases that come in. This is a statewide problem...I believe that we have really trailed behind in this issue for the past couple of decades,” Johnson <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2014/12/05/district-attorney-rob-johnson-justice-bronx/" target="_blank">told</a> the Bronx Chronicle in 2014. “We need to take a long-term look concerning additional judges, additional courtrooms, and additional staff to better handle the caseloads we are getting in.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A former assistant district attorney under Johnson, attorney Paul Martin, agrees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There were never enough courtrooms to meet the needs of having a defendant tried in a timely fashion, there is no doubt about that. So with more judges and more courtrooms, we’d be able to address the backlog of cases,” Martin said.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Hall of Justice, many of the trial parts — the term used to label a specific courtroom — were simply not open when Gotham Gazette visited on July 13. But it is also unclear how it is determined when a trial part is in use: a judge told attorneys all trial parts were in use when a visit to one nearby found another judge sitting in an empty room.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Efficiency</strong><br />Even as it demands more trial parts, <a href="http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/dispos/index.htm" target="_blank">data</a> shows that the Bronx district attorney’s office actually declines to prosecute cases more often than any of its counterparts across the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 2014, the Bronx district attorney's office declined to press charges in 24 percent of violent felony arrests and roughly 16 percent of both felony and misdemeanor arrests. In contrast, in the same year, the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to press charges in 4.1 percent of violent felony arrests, almost 3 percent of felony arrests, and just over 2 percent of misdemeanor arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those numbers— along with (and perhaps caused by) plummeting jury trial success rates— have led many to question whether the office is letting dangerous people walk free.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Executive Assistant District Attorney Dreher says that the rates at which the office declines to press charges are indicative of the office’s practice of immediately rooting out weak cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s not quite what it appears. Each office has a different way of approaching [evaluating a case]. Some offices, when the police officers make the arrest, they’ll bring the case in, they’ll process it, and then they go through and determine is it going be sufficient for trial, is it going to be sufficient to charge,” Dreher said. “We do triage much earlier in the case, we do it in the very beginning.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But the office’s self-described careful triage has not prevented it from either accumulating a low conviction rate or from making a series of high profile blunders.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the office came under fire after Bronx Criminal Court Judge John Wilson publicly condemned Assistant District Attorney Megan Teesdale for failing to reveal evidence that would have freed a man held on Rikers Island who was falsely accused of rape, the New York Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/bronx-prosecutor-barred-courtroom-article-1.1746238" target="_blank">reported</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Later that month, the office was criticized for its “inexplicable” lack of follow-up in its role handling crimes committed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s mother. Prosecutors from the office failed to file routine papers to help recover stolen funds. As a result, Heastie was allowed keep a house his mother purchased with embezzled money; he later sold it and pocketed the profits, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/carl-heastie-new-york-assembly-speaker-benefited-from-mothers-embezzling.html" target="_blank">reported</a> the New York Times.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, Johnson’s office declined to prosecute a group of corrections officers at Rikers who ignored a dying inmate’s pleas for medical assistance, citing a lack of evidence. The inmate’s death was ruled a homicide due to “neglect and denial of medical care.” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/newyork/press-releases/2014/manhattan-u.s.-attorney-and-fbi-announce-charge-against-rikers-island-correction-officer-for-deliberately-ignoring-urgent-medical-needs-of-inmate-who-later-died" target="_blank">charged</a> one of the officers, Captain Terrence Pendergrass, and was <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/statement-manhattan-us-attorney-preet-bharara-conviction-rikers-island-correction" target="_blank">successful</a> in seeking a conviction.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Community Context</strong><br />In interviews, attorneys and politicians stressed the importance of understanding the problems specific to the Bronx when evaluating the district attorney. For attorney Jason Foy, a former ADA in the office, that understanding is particularly important when scrutinizing the Bronx DA’s conviction rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I see articles about the conviction rate in the Bronx being lower than in other places. Well, that’s not necessarily the DA’s problem because that comes from a historical problem between the police and the community,” Foy said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx jurors are notoriously distrustful of the police— a dynamic rooted in policing practices like “stop-and-frisk,” broken windows enforcement, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/11/nypd-operation-clean-halls_n_2852097.html" target="_blank">Operation Clean Halls</a>, in which police patrolled and searched apartment buildings and questioned residents. Johnson was lauded by Bronx residents in 2012 when he <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/robert-johnson-bronx-da-to-nypd-no-more-frivolous-stop-and-frisk-trespassing-arrests-6684033" target="_blank">announced</a> that his office would no longer prosecute people accused of trespassing in public housing who were searched and frisked unless the arresting officer explained the arrest to the office.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When you’re an innocent person walking home, you don’t want to be searched and asked where you’re going. That experience, when you become a juror, impacts how you see the case. It’s hard for innocent people on those juries to just believe a cop automatically,” Foy said. “You may not have that same experience in Westchester County. In the Bronx it’s not that same type of deal...Now is that the DA’s fault?”</p> <p dir="ltr">There will be little opportunity for voters to express their opinions of Distrcit Attorney Johnson <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5831-many-voting-opportunities-for-new-yorkers-in-2015-and-2016" target="_blank">at the polls this fall</a>, given the lack of competition.</p> <p dir="ltr">For former ADA Paul Martin, more troubling than the low conviction rate is what he described as “the lack of understanding or consistency” in the office’s recommendations for punishment.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I thought there was a lack of understanding for the nature of the situation of the individuals and the community and situation in which they came from,” Martin said. “It was that lack of understanding that led individuals who never had any of that experience to be somewhat heavy-handed in the manner in which they would pick their cases.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Foy noted that most lawyers in the office didn’t grow up in the Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Most of them are not from there, they’re from other parts of the country, other less dysfunctional environments,” Foy said. “So that’s going to give you a different perspective.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Now, if you’re saying that the way the prosecutor's office doesn’t take into account some of these social issues that have historically plagued the area— that might be true, but,” Foy continued, “the prosecutor is there to do a job, they’re not there to address the social ills.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/CatieEdmondson" target="_blank">@CatieEdmondson</a></p>