Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/220 Thu, 24 Oct 2019 05:39:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Ensuring Others Don’t Face the Injustice I Did: Why Rory Lancman is the Right Candidate for Queens DA https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8549-ensuring-others-dont-face-injustice-i-did-sean-bell-valerie-rory-lancman-queens-da https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8549-ensuring-others-dont-face-injustice-i-did-sean-bell-valerie-rory-lancman-queens-da r lancman photoop

Valerie Bell, the author, left; Rory Lancman; and Gwen Carr


On November 25, 2006, my son Sean Bell was killed in a hail of 50 bullets from the NYPD on his wedding day. The officers who killed my son were acquitted due to the lack of an unbiased relationship between the judge and the Queens district attorney. Sean never received the justice he deserved and the men that murdered my son suffered no consequences under the law.

Subsequent to this marred process of criminal justice, I worked diligently alongside other mothers who were victims of police brutality to request Governor Cuomo use his authority under the law to appoint a Special Prosecutor in the Attorney General's office to investigate police use of deadly force. The governor supported our view and a Special Prosecutor was granted.

Since meeting City Council Member Rory Lancman, I’ve learned he has always been in relentless pursuit of police accountability. He has been, and continues to be a guardian against the racial disparities of law enforcement in communities of color, and this is why I am supporting Rory Lancman to be the next District Attorney in Queens.

As I have seen firsthand, criminal justice in Queens is stuck in the past, but for the first time in almost 30 years, the people of Queens have the power to elect a new District Attorney. The current Queens DA's office led the opposition to creating a Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission, and is the only DA's office in New York City that refuses to have a wrongful conviction review unit.

The office has opposed closing Rikers Island, and refuses to follow the lead of other District Attorneys who no longer prosecute most fare evasion and marijuana possession cases; 90% of such prosecutions are people of color. Queens’ 2.3 million people deserve better than a 'lock ‘em up and throw away the key' mentality.

For these reasons and more, Rory Lancman needs to be the next District Attorney in Queens.

Rory understands that our criminal justice system is built on a foundation of institutional racism. That racism manifests itself in a number of ways: massive discrepancies in communities of color for low-level arrests, broken windows policing that terrorizes black and brown communities, and a system that sets up even innocent people to plead guilty rather than endure the nightmare of Rikers Island while waiting for their day in court.

My family never received justice for what happened to Sean. Gwen Carr and her family never received justice for what happened to Eric Garner. Instead of just lamenting problems, Rory has gotten to work. He’s sponsored legislation that would outlaw police chokeholds, and has fought against the misuse of New York's so-called “50-A Law” to shield police officers from public scrutiny of prior misconduct. As our next Queens District Attorney, Rory will not tolerate police malfeasance, whether it is violence against law-abiding citizens or perjury in the courtroom.

Finally, Rory will be a true criminal justice reformer at a time when Queens desperately needs it. Rory’s vision is simple: create a fair system that treats everyone equally, and that views incarceration as a last resort for real crimes. Too many of our young people are given criminal records for the rest of their lives that make it hard for them to get an education, job, and housing.

On June 25, Queens will face a stark choice in choosing a new District Attorney. The District Attorney has incredible power over people's lives. Queens is long overdue for a true reformer who will make sure the law works for everyone, and will hold even the powerful accountable. That person is Rory Lancman.

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Valerie Bell is the mother of Sean Bell.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Ensuring Others Don’t Face the Injustice I Did: Why Rory Lancman is the Right Candidate for Queens DA Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Ads: Queens District Attorney Candidates Provide Video Evidence https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8518-campaign-ads-queens-district-attorney-candidates-provide-video-evidence https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8518-campaign-ads-queens-district-attorney-candidates-provide-video-evidence queens da seven

(l-r)Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, & Jose Nieves


There is just over a month till the June 25 Democratic primary election for Queens District Attorney, which will effectively decide who wins the November general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough.

Seven Democratic candidates are vying for the open seat -- long-time Queens District Attorney Richard Brown recently passed away at the age of 86, just short of his planned retirement date.

The seven candidates have been appearing at many local forums and debates, and each has released at least one short video ad of some kind to make their campaign pitch. The better-funded candidates have been able to afford commercials more suited to television airtime and may air them in the expensive New York City media market, while the upstarts in the race -- Tiffany Cabán, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik, and Jose Nieves -- seem to hope that social media will effectively get their message out despite the cash advantage enjoyed by Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, and Greg Lasak.

Here’s a look at video ads put out by the candidates so far:

Tiffany Cabán
Cabán, a public defender, is undoubtedly the most progressive and furthest to the left in a race where most of the candidates are running as reformers. With a campaign focused on “people-powered reform,” Cabán is pitching a vision of restorative justice and a need to move away from the punitive practices that have defined the Queens DA’s office for decades. She promises to pursue a “decarceral” approach to law enforcement.

“On day one, by changing policy, you can change lives,” Cabán said in a minute-long video on Twitter in January. “You can have a very real impact, not just on the criminal justice system but on education, on healthcare, on housing.”

She has promised “full transparency and accountability” and emphasized that she would work to “decriminalize” poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, sex workers and the sex work industry. She is also a fervent opponent of ICE, the federal customs enforcement agency,

“We’re not trying to get convictions, we’re trying to do justice and what that means is strengthening and stabilizing communities,” Cabán said in the video.

 

Melinda Katz
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is the candidate most closely associated with the borough’s Democratic establishment, and she has the funding that comes with it. But she has seemed to downplay that association, perhaps acknowledging it could be somewhat toxic after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of former Rep. and Queens County Democratic leader Joe Crowley (Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Cabán).

In fact, in a campaign ad running just over two minutes that is heavy on personal biography, Katz emphasizes that she was an outsider when she first successfully ran for the City Council, which preceded her election to the state Assembly and the borough presidency.

Walking the streets of Queens, Katz speaks in the video of the personal experiences motivating her to run -- her mother’s death in a car accident involving a drunk driver, and her father’s struggle with cancer before he died. “I wanted to use the law to bring justice to people in a way that I never got,” she says.

Though she lacks prosecutorial experience, Katz pitched her record as a legislator and as borough president, and she touts her work for women’s rights, worker protections, anti-gun initiatives, her push for sealing convictions and clearing outstanding warrants, opposition to President Trump, and, her top stated priority, protecting immigrants.

“We need a way to keep our kids out of jail, out of the system as well as give them fairness and equity while in the system,” she says.

Rory Lancman
New York City Council Member Rory Lancman has touted himself as an aggressive reformer, leaning on his legislative record in the city and previously in the state Assembly. He argues that his agenda for the district attorney office is nearly as progressive as Cabán’s. Lancman, who like Katz has no prosecutorial experience, has been a frequent critic of the NYPD, and its policing practices that have disproportionately harmed communities of color.

After NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo’s chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014, Lancman introduced a bill to make it illegal for police officers to employ chokeholds to restrain a subject (they are currently banned by department protocol, though they are still used).

Lancman has put out two video spots: one with more biographical and resume information, and another about his work holding the NYPD accountable. His advocacy has earned him the endorsement of Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, who appears in a 30-second spot released by Lancman’s campaign. “He’s the candidate who will fight for reform. He’ll fight for all of us,” Carr says in the ad.

Greg Lasak
A veteran prosecutor, Greg Lasak rose up through the ranks of the Queens DA’s office. His tough-on-crime attitude and his successful record in prosecuting homicide suspects earned him the nickname “Mr. Murder.” Most recently, he served as a State Supreme Court Justice.

Lasak has emphasized that he is the best candidate to reform the DA’s office because he is intimately familiar with its inner workings and that he’s alway had a reformer’s streak -- but that he will also keep the borough safe. He has also pointed to his work on reversing wrongful convictions when he worked for the Queens DA, leaning heavily on that aspect of his career in a campaign ad that features a family that benefited from his efforts. “Greg Lasak is my family’s angel, in our time of need, in our time of despair and time of darkness,” says Dwayne Palmer, whose relative was set free by Lasak’s unit.

Betty Lugo
Betty Lugo is a former Nassau County assistant district attorney and founding partner at Pacheco & Lugo PLLC, the city’s first Latina-owned law firm. She also previously worked for the Manhattan and Albany DAs.

She is running on a campaign theme of “True Justice For All” and promises to be “firm but fair” in fighting crime. “Everyone, whether they’re victims, defendants or community groups, the District Attorney must represent them all,” Lugo said in video on Twitter.

Mina Malik
Harvard professor Mina Malik is another candidate with experience in the Queens DA’s office, having served there as an assistant district attorney. Malik has had a variety of experience, including as head of the city’s police oversight Civilian Complaint Review Board.

In a Twitter video, Malik stresses her diverse experience and the fact that she is a first-time candidate as positives for her campaign. “I’m not a career politician...I have spent decades working in our criminal justice system, fighting for fairness and an often deserved second chance, while being tough on violent criminals who prey on women, children and the elderly,” she said.

Jose Nieves
An army combat veteran and community leader, Nieves was formerly deputy chief in the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit at the Office of the New York State Attorney General. He has also worked for the New York City Department of Correction and, before that, the Federal Aviation Administration.


The DA’s office “is not just about charging and incarcerating. That’s one aspect of what we do. The other aspect is trying to empower the community,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.

 

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Campaign Ads: Queens District Attorney Candidates Provide Video Evidence Wed, 22 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Candidates for Queens District Attorney Profess Similar Values, Stake Out Different Positions https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8373-candidates-for-queens-district-attorney-positions-march-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8373-candidates-for-queens-district-attorney-positions-march-debate Gotham Gazette:

3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)


The candidates for Queens District Attorney are becoming increasingly clear about where they stand on key criminal justice issues and how they would run the office if elected later this year. Queens is home to its first competitive district attorney election in decades, with long-time District Attorney Richard Brown set to retire and a crowded Democratic primary set for June 25. The general election will be in November.

There are seven candidates currently running, all in the Democratic primary, and six of them met last week for a fast-paced and detail-oriented debate sponsored by the “Queens for DA Accountability” coalition, made up of many community and advocacy groups, hosted at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, and moderated by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max.

The candidates for the borough’s top prosecutorial and law enforcement position spoke to roughly 200 attendees and others watching a live-stream, explaining their qualifications for the job and stances on a wide variety of policy issues, some of which they would have control over as district attorney, others that they would be able to influence. Queens, home to more than 2.4 million people, is known as the most diverse borough in the most diverse city in the country.

Several questions at the forum were asked by community leaders, on topics ranging from the school-to-prison pipeline to police accountability, such as Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by police in Queens, and Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker, who have affiliations with groups in the sponsoring coalition.

Six of the seven candidates were in attendance. Mina Malik was sick and unable to participate in the forum, though she released a video on Twitter saying she was sorry to miss it and looked forward to engaging with those participating in the event. The six candidates present at the debate were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves.

[For background on the candidates and the race, read: ‘We’re in a New Era’: Inside the Crowded Race to Become the Next Queens District Attorney and Reset the Borough’s Prosecutorial Agenda]

As they have at other race events, in their campaign materials, and during interviews, the candidates largely agreed that the Queens District Attorney’s office is in serious need of change, in a general sense of modernizing its practices and culture, but also on key practices. The candidates also mostly found broad agreement at the debate that change is needed on a wide variety of topics like cash bail, sex work prosecutions, Rikers Island, and what to do about police misconduct, but the candidates often disagreed on the solutions. In an email exchange with Gotham Gazette, Malik provided her answers to debate questions, which are also included below.

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

Vision for the Office
At the start of the forum, the candidates were asked how they envision the DA’s office and how it would work under them.

Cabán, a public defender, said she would change the “metrics of success” for the office, claiming there is currently “a system based on gamesmanship” favoring convictions over justice. Instead, she would focus on lowering incarceration and recidivism. Katz, the Queens borough president, envisions the district attorney’s office as a leadership position and that her primary responsibility would be implementing policies and reforms.

Lancman, a City Council member, called the office “more than just a place that processes cases that police bring” and “responsible for public safety in Queens.” He said he would decline to prosecute people with mental illnesses and drug addiction and focus on preventing crime.

Nieves, a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office, said the DA’s job is to protect residents and know how and when to prosecute cases. Lugo, an attorney and former prosecutor, cited her campaign theme “true justice for all,” and said the officeholder needed to understand “complexities of the whole system” and “prioritize prosecutions.”

Lasak, who worked in the Queens DA office for many years before becoming a judge -- a position he resigned from to run this year -- called the DA the “chief law enforcement officer for the borough,” and a position that works with the police department.

Violent Crime
The candidates were asked how they would handle prosecutions of violent crime if they were to become the Queens District Attorney, and how that approach may or may not fit into larger calls to reduce the jail population. Teachout noted that the number of people incarcerated in New York for non-violent crimes has steadily dropped over the past two decades, while the number of people incarcerated for violent crimes has remained stagnant.

Cabán took the strongest stance in favor of change, saying that her office would “think of criminals as victims of trauma themselves” and that she considers violent crime to be a “public health problem.” Lancman similarly said that it is imperative to “confront the issue of violence” to achieve decarceration, and that prosecutorial reform “cannot exclude violent crimes.”

Katz noted that disparities in violent crime prosecution have a “disproportionate effect on people of color” and that her office would work for “fair and equitable prosecutions.” She also said that she would focus resources on diversion programs and access to mental health care, working with the community.

Nieves said prosecutors often overcharge defendants to secure a plea deal and that he would end that practice, in addition to engaging in “alternatives to incarceration,” such as diversion programs. Lugo said that the process should focus on care for the victim and the DA’s office should hire social workers for victims of violent crime, but she did not directly answer the question.

Unlike the other five candidates at the debate, Lasak cautioned against changing how the office handles violent crime. He said that the DA’s “main job is public safety” and that “we have to be careful when dealing with violent crime.” The statement was one piece of a pattern throughout the debate, and the broader race, where Lasak has staked out more moderate positions in the field, though at times he is joined by other candidates and he consistently says he would make some progressive changes.

All candidates present answered affirmatively when asked if they thought current sentences for violent crime were too long in general.

By email, Malik said, "Ensuring that violent criminals are held accountable must be a top priority for any District Attorney, but it must be an accountability that keeps our communities both safe and whole." She highlighted her experience in Queens prosecuting "human traffickers, serial rapists, child molesters and violent, repeat offenders," but said she also has "the reform experience of having implemented restorative justice, diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration, particularly for first-time violent offenders, so that one mistake doesn’t take a person further down the wrong path."

Domestic Violence Prosecutions
The six candidates were asked whether they would commit to not prosecuting victims of domestic violence and interpersonal conflict for self-defense or acts of survival. All six candidates present committed, with Katz asking “who wouldn’t?”

Malik also made that commitment, and added: As a former Special Victims prosecutor, I worked with countless women who were victims of abuse and assault and I am adamantly committed to ensuring the Queens DA’s Office protect victims, not retraumatize them."

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

Police/Prosecutorial Misconduct
Representatives from the grassroots organization Vocal NY asked what the candidates would do the deter police and prosecutorial misconduct and what would be the career consequences for Assistant DAs that commit misconduct, such as withholding evidence. Later, Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, asked what the candidates would do to ensure fair prosecutions of crimes involving police officers -- like the trial involving officers who shot and killed her son -- and that misconduct investigations were swift, thorough, and unbiased.

Cabán said that public defense offices already have lists of “bad officers” and that as DA she would publish these lists and not rely on those officers’ testimony in cases. She also said that prosecutors should undergo retraining to prevent misconduct and that “anyone who wears a badge and commits a crime should be held accountable independent of conflicts of interest.”

Katz vowed that misconduct “won’t be stood for in my office” and that prosecutors would have to follow her reform policies. She also said that the state attorney general’s office should investigate police brutality accusations, not just police killings of unarmed individuals as is currently the case based on an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Lancman cited the City Council hearings that he has held on police misconduct and the history of misconduct in the Queens DA office. He asserted that “reforms prevent wrongful convictions” and that he would implement a broader code of conduct. He would use personnel in the DA’s office to investigate police misconduct, he added.

Nieves said that Assistant DAs that commit misconduct “would be fired” and that he would create a civil rights bureau within the office to investigate police misconduct with personnel from the DA’s office. He also said that police officers who commit perjury should be prosecuted. Lugo said that her office would have “no tolerance for discrimination” and “firm but fair prosecutions.” On the issue of investigations, she said that Assistant DAs “should know the communities they’re prosecuting in” and this would make investigations more equitable.

Lasak brought up his previous experience in the DA’s office, saying that “prosecutors under me knew they couldn’t [commit misconduct]” and that his leadership would set the example for his office. He also said he would use the DA’s investigators in police misconduct cases, not the NYPD.

Malik wrote that she will work to prevent prosecutorial misconduct. "As District Attorney, I will institute agency-wide trainings on Brady, discovery, witness interviews and preparation, suspect interviews, implicit bias, cultural competency and anti-racism." She promised a DA's office that is "for the first time, representative of the community it serves at the leadership level and hire a dedicated ethics officer to assist in ensuring our attorneys are always above reproach when practicing law."

Sex Work Decriminalization
Jennifer Orellana, a transgender former sex worker and member of Make the Road New York, asked the candidates for their views on the decriminalization of sex work. The Queens DA would potentially be able to decline to prosecute sex workers, as well as their customers and others involved in sex work, like landlords. Most of the candidates agreed that the DA’s office needs to change how it handles sex work crimes, mostly with a focus on the sex workers themselves, though they spoke about sex work in varied terms.

Cabán committed to declining to prosecute sex work-related offenses, including sex workers and those that participate in the sex work industry. She also said that the trans and sex work communities need to be protected. Katz said that sex work offenses should be “diverted into human trafficking courthouses.” She would not prosecute and make resources available to prevent recidivism, she said, while also indicating a belief that all sex workers need to be helped to find a different line of work and path in life.

Lancman would also decline to prosecute and would direct sex workers to diversion programs, in addition to focusing on sex trafficking and human traffickers.

Nieves would similarly decline to prosecute, calling sex work “a non-violent and consensual crime” and that he “won’t waste resources” on it. He would also create a human trafficking unit.

Lugo would consider declining to prosecute and instead implement a diversion program. She also brought up the need to focus on sex trafficking. Lasak was the only candidate against fully declining to prosecute, saying that “the impact on the broader community needs to be looked at” and that sex work lowers the quality of life for residents in affected neighborhoods.

Malik wrote her "position to decline to prosecute for sex workers and to vacate prostitution records is informed by a career of defending women suffering sex abuse and working with victims to come forward. We should be investing in resources to help sex workers get treatment and services where needed, while diverting enforcement toward those who profit off of, prey on and traffic sex workers."

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

Bail Reform
The topic of bail reform also generated a wide consensus among the candidates. Though there are ongoing negotiations in the state capital around major bail reform that could impact the next Queens District Attorney, the candidates were asked about what their policies would be if no changes are made at the state level.

All the candidates agreed to reduce the use of cash bail for at least minor and non-violent offenses, with some candidates saying that they would end the practice entirely.

Cabán pledged to end cash bail “to the fullest extent” and that her office would “release people as often as possible,” including on some violent alleged crimes. Katz agreed to end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies automatically, but for violent felonies supervision should be looked at as an alternative. Lancman committed to never asking for cash bail and would expand eligibility for release “to the maximum extent of the law,” noting that Kalief Browder was kept on Rikers Island after not being able to post bail upon being arrested for what is essentially a non-violent crime of stealing a backpack, for which he never formally faced charges and was eventually released, later killing himself.

Nieves committed to no cash bail for all offenses and that he would use appearance bonds instead of cash bonds. Appearance bonds usually stipulate that a defendant would pay a fine if they do not appear for their court date. Lugo said she would handle the issue on a case-by-case basis and that non-violent crimes would not have cash bail, except for “major drug cases,” like El Chapo.

Lasak agreed to no cash bail for minor offenses, but would keep the policy in place for other charges.

Rikers Island Closure and Proposed New Jail in Queens
The candidates were asked if they support the closure of Rikers Island and also if they support the proposed new community jail in Queens.

Cabán was the only candidate to support the closure of Rikers Island and also oppose the new community jail in Queens. She said that she did not support building new jails because she “doesn’t want them filled.” Perhaps along with Lancman, she has outlined the most aggressive decarceration plan in the race, though he said that Rikers must be closed and also supports the new community jail.

Katz supports closing Rikers Island and also the construction of a community jail in Queens.

Nieves supports the closure of Rikers and opposed the construction of “mega-jails” in Queens. Lugo said she wants to see the current facilities on Rikers Island closed, but wants new facilities on the island that would separate violent and non-violent offenders. Lasak wants to keep the jails on Rikers Island open.

Malik wrote that she believes "it is critical that the community in Queens has its voice and concerns fully heard" but that "the closing of Rikers should also be taken as an opportunity for us as New Yorkers to totally reject the violent culture of Rikers by designing new detention facilities that treat everyone with dignity and aggressively support their reentry. Community detention centers that treat people with dignity and allow people to have more regular contact with their loved ones and support systems have proven to result in reduced recidivism."

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

Police in Schools/School-to-Prison Pipeline
The candidates were asked about their views on police in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline by an activist with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.

Cabán asserted the “need to get police officers out of school” and that “students of color have been criminalized.” Her position is that her office would “decline to prosecute children whenever possible,” and instead “engage in restorative justice.”

Katz said “police officers aren’t the only answer to school safety,” but may be necessary in some cases. She believes that diversion programs could work better and that there are currently “too many officers” in schools. Lancman committed to not prosecuting “low-level offenses from schools” and that these would be handled in schools and youth court.

Nieves compared over-policed schools to Rikers Island and said his office would give students opportunities instead for low-level offenses and deal with felonies in family court. Lugo said that low-level offenses “should be handled in school,” but supports police being present in schools.

Lasak also said that he wants police in schools and that his office would instead focus on “bridging the gap between the community and the courthouse,” through education programs involving young people.

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

Immigration
On the topic of immigration, candidates were asked if they would consider mitigating immigration consequences in prosecutorial decisions. Immigrants, including legal residents, could face deportation for certain offenses or even based on what prosecutors say in court statements.

Cabán vowed to “keep ICE out of courthouses” and “make sure the DA’s office doesn’t do anything to further deportation,” including taking immigration status into consideration for pleas, charges, and court statements. Katz promised to have “deportation-neutral” charges and pleas. Lancman suggested that the office would hire a “collateral offense officer” to look at mitigating the immigration consequences of prosecutions.

Nieves noted that immigration is an important factor for both victims and suspects, saying that victims and witnesses are often afraid to come forward for fear of being deported. Similar to other candidates, he committed to mitigating the immigration consequences of the office’s prosecutions. Lugo vowed to block ICE from courts and to set up an immigration affairs bureau, which would include interpreters. Lasak promised to mitigate immigration consequences only for minor offenses.

Malik wrote that she "will implement an immigrant hardship plea policy. Whenever compatible with public safety, I will direct prosecutors to consider collateral consequences when charging noncitizens. We have to ensure the sentence matches the offense and that we are not tearing families apart or leveling disproportionate sentences."

[LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been updated with Mina Malik's responses.

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Candidates for Queens District Attorney Profess Similar Values, Stake Out Different Positions Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19) https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8357-listen-queens-district-attorney-candidate-debate alyssaguilera vocal

3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)


Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.

Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max & Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: 'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney.]

 

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LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19) Thu, 14 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State District Attorneys Association Targeted as Roadblock to Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8356-state-district-attorneys-association-targeted-as-roadblock-to-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8356-state-district-attorneys-association-targeted-as-roadblock-to-reform city council justice preli budget

District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Advocates who are pushing to reform the criminal justice system by focusing on the powerful role that district attorneys play as enforcers of the law often cite Larry Krasner as a model. Krasner was elected the district attorney of Philadelphia in 2017 on a comprehensive reform platform and in November last year, just 11 months into his first term, he pulled out of the statewide Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Krasner blamed the association for holding back much-needed reform and advocating for overly harsh prosecutorial policies.

Reformers and advocates in New York hailed Krasner’s withdrawal as an example to follow. They’ve long argued that the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) is one of the biggest roadblocks to criminal justice reform making its way through the state Legislature. DAASNY essentially acts as a lobbying group for prosecutors, critics say, and attempts to water down legislation to maintain the already significant discretionary authority that individual district attorneys enjoy.

“Ultimately this is about power not wanting to lose power,” said Erin George, statewide Criminal Justice Campaigns Director for Citizen Action of New York. “The DA’s association is set against reforms that would threaten the unbridled power they have in the current pretrial system to railroad New Yorkers and drive the case outcomes and convictions that they’re looking to secure.”

It’s a harsh assessment backed by years of seeing DAASNY oppose efforts to change New York’s drug sentencing laws, early release policies, criminal charges for gravity knife possession, and a commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct. This year, with Democrats in full control of the Legislature, advocates are again seeing the largely invisible hand of DAASNY guiding legislation to reform the state’s discovery, bail, and speedy trial laws. George said the association’s “fear mongering narratives and dog whistle tactics” become “the political narrative that has to be responded to and the issues sort of avalanche.”

Last month, a coalition of advocacy groups including Citizen Action, VOCAL-NY, New York Communities for Change, and JustLeadershipUSA formally sent letters calling on several sitting district attorneys who call themselves progressives to step down from DAASNY, publicly disavow the association and support reform legislation in Albany. The letters were sent to Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, Erie County DA John Flynn, Suffolk County DA Timothy Sini, and Nassau County DA Madeline Singas.

“DAASNY is once again, the primary opposition to passing legislative changes that would advance justice, equity and an end to mass incarceration in New York State,” the letter reads. Early last month, Citizen Action also sent a similar letter directly to Albany DA David Soares, a Democrat and the current president of DAASNY.

Soares was elected as a reformer himself but has since disappointed activists who say he has acted more in DAASNY’s interests than in the interests of justice. But he rejects their criticism.

“There is an unfortunate misperception that DAASNY is opposed to reform. This is far from the truth," Soares said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “For decades DAASNY has been at the forefront of alternatives to incarceration programs. We supported legislation to allow the sealing of past criminal convictions and to help convicted offenders obtain a second chance.”

He said that DAASNY supports both discovery and bail reform but does not support “discovery measures that threaten the safety of victims and witnesses” or “bail reform measures that undermine the safety of domestic violence and sexual assault victims.” Soares was among 15 prosecutors who recently wrote to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to profess support for ending cash bail and overhauling the state’s bail system. “The only people who should be detained pretrial are those who a judge finds pose a specific, clear and credible threat to the physical safety of the community, or who are a risk of intentionally evading their court dates,” they wrote.

For advocates like George, the issue at hand is DAASNY’s “unbridled power, unequal power” in Albany. Just as individual DA’s leverage their authority to win favorable pleas, even if it means withholding evidence that could be beneficial to defendants until just before trial, they say DAASNY leverages its authority to impact bills that have been moved through grassroots efforts.

Nick Malinowski, civil rights campaign director of VOCAL-NY, said DAASNY’s role has become all that more apparent this year. In past years, Republicans held the state Senate and were more often than not opposed to the types of progressive bills being championed by Democratic legislators and advocacy groups. Yet, DAASNY has continued to push back against reform. “What we’re seeing is the impact of DAASNY, which traditionally had been influencing Republicans. It’s having a similar influence even with a Democratically-controlled Senate,” Malinowski said. “They’re doing the same type of fear-mongering.”

Malinowski cited outright misinformation being put out by the association. For instance, in an op-ed in the Times Herald Record, Orange County DA David Hoovler, the vice president of DAASNY, argued that the governor’s discovery reform proposal being considered in Albany would open up witnesses to intimidation and threat since it would make their addresses public. “That’s not actually what’s in the bill and these guys know that,” Malinowski pointed out, noting that the bill allows prosecutors to provide “adequate alternative contact information” of witnesses instead of addresses. That could include an email or phone number, Malinowski said. Bills introduced in the state Legislature similarly contain witness protections.

“DAASNY, which is a lobbying group for prosecutors, like any other advocacy group, they are in Albany lobbying legislators to increase the power and influence of their constituents, which are prosecutors,” he added. “Their constituency is not crime victims, it’s not voters, it’s not the public. It’s prosecutors.”

While DAASNY does influence legislation and the legislative process, its leaders are not registered lobbyists. Soares opposes use of the term lobbyist group, instead calling DAASNY a trade organization.

Vance’s office declined to comment for this story. The Albany Times Union reported that he and others targeted by the coalition of advocates did not plan to leave DAASNY.

Advocates are hoping to make membership in DAASNY a litmus test for progressives, as is evident in Queens. Seven candidates are hoping to secure the Democratic primary nomination for Queens DA June 25 as DA Richard Brown, who has been in office for nearly three decades, is retiring as of June 1. His term ends this year. In the mix are several candidates trying to out-progressive each other. Most, if not all, have said they will reform the office, which has jurisdiction over the city’s most diverse and second-largest borough.

Two of the candidates, City Council Member Rory Lancman and public defender Tiffany Cabán, have pledged that they will not join DAASNY. Lancman has said he has seen DAASNY’s obstructive efforts firsthand when he was a member of the state Assembly. “I'm not joining DAASNY. And I plan on having a *robust* legislative affairs office to lobby for real reform in Albany & NYC (and Washington where necessary),” he tweeted in October last year. “If you're an elected official fighting for reform, I'm going to have your back.”

Similarly, Cabán called out DAASNY in a tweet last month for lobbying against the open discovery bill. “The DA Association of the State of New York is wrong to oppose it, which is why I will exit DAASNY & work instead with DAs who share our values,” she wrote.

Soares did not seem to take kindly to those pledges. “My advice to those District Attorney candidates who are pledging to not join DAASNY as part of their campaign tactic is this: Rejecting DAASNY may make you a political darling amongst a small segment of supporters, but it won't make you a better prosecutor.”

The other candidates in Queens haven’t been as willing to shun DAASNY, even as they say they disagree with the association’s positions on certain reforms. Among them are former State Supreme Court Judge Gregory Lasak, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, former prosecutors Mina Malik and Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves, a former senior prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA’s office. (Emma Whitford reported for Gotham Gazette that Lugo and Nieves intended to join DAASNY, even though both have expressed reservations about the association’s position on discovery reform).

Lasak said in a statement that he intends to implement or advocate for several reforms after joining DAASNY, including creating a Conviction Integrity Unit, expanding diversion programs, and ending cash bail on low-level, non-violent offenses. “I’ve always believed that the best way to change an organization is from within,” he said. “It’s easy to throw stones from the outside but it won’t effect [sic] real change.”

Malik, similarly, argued that it would be “misguided” to leave Queens’ 2.4 million residents “without a voice in the room” even as she said she disagrees with DAASNY on bail and discovery reform. “My role with DAASNY would be to advocate for Queens and to organize from within to empower progressive DAs. I would keep all options on the table, including withdrawal, if membership in DAASNY proves fruitless to those aims,” she said in a statement.

Katz said she intended to “export” the progressive policies she implements in the Queens DA’s office to the association’s other members. “You can’t be heard if you’re not at the table,” she said in a phone interview. “I think you can institute the policies that we care deeply about here, like no cash bail, like discovery reform...I can do all of that without legislation in Albany. I’m strong enough to believe that should I be sitting on an organization that has the other DAs on it, that I can help move them in that direction too.”

Advocates, however, are hoping their collective clamor will make DAASNY a pro.minent enough issue for voters who are increasingly beginning to pay attention to how district attorneys wield their power. Malinowski issued a simple warning. “You can’t say that you’re a progressive prosecutor and then at the same time be part of a lobbying group that is trying to kill every piece of progressive legislation.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Erin George of Citizen Action 

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State District Attorneys Association Targeted as Roadblock to Reform Wed, 13 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Agenda 2019: Queens District Attorney Race Will Center on Push for Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8078-agenda-2019-queens-district-attorney-race-will-center-on-push-for-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8078-agenda-2019-queens-district-attorney-race-will-center-on-push-for-reform city council ar rl jw dr marij

Rory Lancman (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Off-year elections in New York City, like the one next year, tend to hold little significance and command minimal attention, with few positions on the ballot and no headlining executive race like mayor or governor. But in Queens, next year will offer a momentous opportunity for voters to make a decision that could dramatically affect the lives of residents of the country’s most diverse county and potentially establish a new paradigm for criminal justice there, with reverberations beyond.

In 2019, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, a Democrat who has held his seat for 28 years, is not expected to run for reelection, and those seeking to replace him have made clear that they would break from his tough-on-crime policies that they say have disparately and adversely affected low-income communities of color and modernize the office. As the top prosecutor in each county, district attorneys hold substantial authority over how the law is enforced, working in conjunction with the police. They have broad investigatory powers and can bring both criminal charges and civil litigation.

The Queens DA’s office under Brown is among the last to embrace a shift in the conversation around criminal justice away from a punitive system to one focused more on rehabilitation and restoration. Brown, 85, has done little to break from the conservative practices of what appears to be a bygone era, especially in New York City and other big cities around the country. The race to replace him is likely going to be a contentious competition to see who can promise the most drastic shifts toward progressive prosecutorial conduct.

Unlike the district attorneys in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, Brown has been slower to ease the prosecution of low-level offenses, including for marijuana arrests and fare evasion, largely ignored calls for reducing or ending the use of cash bail, and has rejected funding that would allow his office to set up a dedicated unit to investigate wrongful convictions. Following the lead of other district attorneys and after repeatedly declining to do so, his office did move to clear hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants for low-level offenses.

In the first half of this year, Queens disproportionately accounted for the number of pre-trial detainees in jail accused of misdemeanors, according to a Gothamist report. Those prosecutions additionally impact undocumented immigrants, who could potentially face deportation stemming from low-level charges. And as the city moves to close the Rikers Island jail complex, Brown’s office has indicated that it would prefer it remain open.

Having remained in office for the better part of three decades, and with his well-documented struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Brown is widely expected to finish his time in office at the end of next year (he hasn’t said if he will resign before his term ends). “My present term does not expire until December 2019 and I will make no decision about the future until sometime next year,” Brown said in a statement.

“He’s been a tough as nails prosecutor. He doesn’t seem to want to implement any progressive reforms to the laws under his jurisdiction and under his authority,” said Jon McFarlane, a Queens resident for 40 years and a volunteer at Court Watch NYC, a collaboration among three advocacy groups aimed at monitoring cases that makes their way through the criminal courts. “He’s had tremendous power over the last two, two-and-a-half decades and he’s only used that power to criminalize black, brown and Latino people.”

agenda19v2 aMcFarlane said that advocates have “new hope” that progressive reforms will soon pass in the state Legislature and that Brown’s replacement will be someone who institutes reform rather than punishment. “We’re looking for candidates that will end the prison pipeline out of [our] neighborhoods, we’re looking for candidates that will end mass incarceration, we’re looking for progressive candidates that will implement bail reform,” he said.

Two Democrats have already declared their intentions to seek the office. The first to jump into the race was New York City Council Member Rory Lancman, who is running as a progressive diametrically opposed to the office’s current policies. “The criminal justice system is broken,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s racist. It’s discriminatory against poor people. It fails to protect working people and we’re gonna reform it from top to bottom.”

The other candidate in the race right now is retired Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, a veteran prosecutor who says he alone knows how to reform that office since he worked there for 25 years. “The district attorney is not a job for a politician,” Lasak said in a phone interview. “You have to have the experience and the skill because you’re making decisions that affect people’s lives...and I think there’s nobody that has the wealth of experience that I have in doing that and I will continue to do that.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has long been rumored to be considering a bid as well but has yet to make any announcements. A nongovernmental spokesperson for Katz declined to comment. And Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former Queens assistant district attorney, might also jump into the race, according to a Queens Daily Eagle report. Malik declined to comment in an email to Gotham Gazette.  

Advocates for criminal justice reform have made clear that no matter the candidates, they believe there must be changes in how the office treats the people of Queens, particularly the communities of color that have suffered the ill effects of a system of mass incarceration. On October 30, advocates from several organizations rallied outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse, demanding those reforms from the district attorney’s office now.

Andrea Colon, community engagement organizer at the Rockaway Youth Task Force, said the next district attorney should not be “a factor” in mass incarceration. “I think anyone can see that [DA Brown] is a defender of the status quo,” she said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Colon said the diversity of the borough should be reflected in the DA’s office and that the next officeholder should move away from a punitive approach to the job. “It’s also about being an advocate, making sure that role is not just simply about prosecuting people who come through your door,” she said. “It’s about advocating for things like legislation up in Albany or in the city that will impact the people of Queens.”

Lancman has spent years doing just that, he said in the interview, previously as a member of the State Assembly and as a Council member for the last five years — in his first term, he chaired the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which was redesigned by the new Council speaker this year to create a separate Committee on the Justice System which Lancman now heads. He believes he is the most progressive of any candidate in the race, even if those rumored to join the race do so. “As a government official I’ve expressly taken on the responsibility of trying to reform the criminal justice system and have used the governmental tools at my disposal to reform the criminal justice system.”

Though he has spent years in government, Lancman does not have any prosecutorial experience, having worked as an attorney in private practice and teaching at St. John’s University in Queens. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School.

A vocal critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, Lancman has attempted to pass bills that would make policing more transparent and accountable and has been successful in small ways, in lieu of state action, in making it easier to pay bail. He has tried to make the use of a chokehold by police illegal -- it is currently only banned by department rules — and, after the NYPD refused to release data on arrests for fare-beating as required by a law that Lancman sponsored, he sued the city.

As district attorney, Lancman said he would unilaterally implement many of the reforms that have languished in the state Legislature for years, but which are expected to finally pass with both legislative chambers heading to Democratic control come January -- Republicans who have controlled the Senate blocked many of the bills. Lancman said he wouldn’t prosecute a “laundry list” of low-level offenses “that are giving black and brown kids records for the rest of their lives,” would not ask for cash bail “under any circumstance,” would end the so-called “ready rule” practice that DAs use to deny defendants a speedy trial and implement full open-file discovery. He also expressed support for a bill passed this year by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo establishing a first-in-the-nation commission on prosecutorial misconduct.

“There’s nothing that’s out of the DA’s hand,” he said, before making a somewhat veiled reference to Lasak. “That’s the important thing to understand. The people who built the Queens DA’s office are not the ones to reform the Queens DA’s office and every criminal justice reform that matters to people can be accomplished by having the right person as Queens DA.”

He continued, “It’s not merely to confront the racism and discrimination against poor people that permeates the criminal justice system but also to refocus the office’s priorities to help working people.” He said he would focus on issues such as wage theft and unsafe workplace conditions, predatory housing practices and tenant harassment, and sexual assault. “We waste all this time and energy prosecuting these low level offenses, fighting to keep people in jail just because they don’t have money, playing games with the discovery rules that make it impossible for people to defend themselves in court, instead of focusing on things that are really making working people unsafe,” he said.

“The DA’s office is unique in that it requires serious preparation and a very detailed understanding of the office and a detailed commitment to the issues the office confronts,” Lancman said, “and I will put that level of demonstrated commitment, experience and planning up against any candidate in the race.”

lasak for DAOf course, Lasak (pictured) believes he is the candidate who brings the most experience to the table, not Lancman. “There’s no comparison in terms of experience,” he said in a phone interview. A hard-nosed prosecutor with more than two decades experience in the Queens DA’s office, Lasak became chief of the homicide division when he was 30. When Brown took over, Lasak was the executive assistant DA of the major crimes division and was later in charge of the homicide investigations and homicide trial bureaus and the special victims bureau, and he set up the office’s domestic violence bureau. “Most of my career’s been dedicated to combating violent crime,” he said.

Heading up homicide prosecutions for nearly two decades earned Lasak the moniker “Mr. Murder.” He wasn’t sure where it originated from — a New York Times profile from 2003, when Lasak was elected State Supreme Court Justice, offered little about the origins of the name — but how does he feel about it? “Doesn’t bother me,” he said with a chuckle.

Lasak’s argument is that he can reform the office because he is intimately familiar with how it works. “To reform the place, you can’t sit looking at it from the outside if you don’t know how it works on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Though his background smacks of the type of stern policies Brown’s office is known for, he is making a softer pitch as a candidate, similar to Lancman’s. He wants to reform bail procedures, ensure speedy trials and discovery reform.

“I’ve been out of that office nearly 15 years. The world has changed, Queens has changed, but the office has to change too,” he said. “The assistant district attorneys in the office should reflect the changing demographics of Queens County, the most diverse county in the world, and the office has not changed along those lines. I want it to reflect the diversity of our population here in Queens, including at the highest levels of the office.”

He said he’d take a “good hard look” at how the office handles low-level nonviolent offenses and bail. “My rule when I was there was, if you’re not gonna ask for jail time at the end of the case, you have no business asking for bail at the beginning of the case, and I will make sure that is a policy of the office,” he said, particularly cognizant of how the enforcement of small marijuana possession cases has impacted communities of color. “Once you stick a criminal record on a young man, you scar him for life. I don’t want to do that. We’re losing too many young men, especially in the minority community...I want to give them another chance,” he said.

He also stressed that, as DA, he would ensure any potential wrongful convictions are reviewed by senior prosecutors and detectives, as he said he used to do when he worked there.

There is, however, greater daylight between Lasak and Lancman on the proposed plan for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. In September, Lancman publicly debated a Queens assistant district attorney about the closure of the jails on the island -- the Queens DA and Staten Island DA are the only two in the city opposing the plan. Lancman, who supports it, said he will make it a central campaign issue “because where you stand on Rikers and where you have been on Rikers tells us everything we need to know about where you stand on reforming the criminal justice system and what kind of DA you will be.”

Lasak said he has not closely studied the Rikers plan, which includes demolishing the current Queens detention facility and building a newer, more modern one so detainees can be housed closer to their homes and to the courthouse. Lasak pointedly refused to take a position on it, despite being repeatedly asked. “Rikers Island is really not an issue for the district attorney,” he said. “My concern is that people who are on Rikers Island, make sure they belong on Rikers Island. I don’t want anyone sitting on Rikers Island that doesn’t belong there.”

Advocates intend on holding the candidates, whoever should win, accountable for their words.

“I think it’s one thing to say that you’re for criminal justice reform,” said Colon from Rockaway Youth Task Force, “and it’s another to actually act on that.”

Nick Malinowski of VOCAL-NY, one of the groups that make up Court Watch NYC, put the Queens DA’s race in the context of a national movement and growing awareness around prosecutorial accountability and the discretionary powers that district attorneys have at their disposal. “I think there’s a growing understanding across the country about the impact that prosecutors have and that kind of movement and understanding is definitely coming to Queens,” he said.

Malinowski pointed to the recent elections of progressive reform-minded district attorneys in other states -- Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Rachael Rollins in Suffolk County, Massachusetts -- as an example of where Queens should be headed. Considering the size and diversity of New York City’s second-most populous borough, he said that this election could be one of the most consequential in the city, if not the entire nation -- the Bronx and Staten Island DAs are up for reelection next year, but Queens is expected to be the lone ‘empty seat’ race.

“I think there’s a good case for the Queens DA to be the single-most progressive DA in the country,” Malinowski said.

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Agenda 2019: Queens District Attorney Race Will Center on Push for Reform Thu, 15 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
District Attorneys Outline Budget Needs at the City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6844-district-attorneys-outline-budget-needs-at-the-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6844-district-attorneys-outline-budget-needs-at-the-city-council gibson cornegy city council

Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Robert Cornegy (photo: William Alatriste)


At a preliminary budget hearing before the City Council committee on Public Safety Thursday morning, the district attorneys of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island and representatives for the district attorneys of Brooklyn and Queens and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor laid out the case for their budget priorities.

Several themes emerged during the hearing chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chiefly the issues of salaries for the offices’ hundreds of assistant district attorneys, the entry position for much of the essential staff; the ongoing opioid crisis and its public health and budgetary implications; and the efficiency and speed of the criminal justice system.

Also looming were potential state and federal budget cuts; Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. said that his office “could be losing $675,000” in federal grant money and an additional $500,000 in state funds, a burden that the city may have to shoulder.

Prompted by a question from Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the D.A.s and their representatives stated that the range of salaries for entry-level A.D.A.s went from $60,000 in Brooklyn, the lowest paid, to $68,000 on Staten Island. All said that they needed to raise those numbers to combat what Leroy Frazer Jr., chief of staff to Acting Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez, called “record attrition.”

“Are they going to white-shoe firms? No. To Fortune 500 companies? No. They’re going other city and state agencies...that pay better,” said Bronx D.A. Darcel Clark. Each office is seeking additional funds for A.D.A. recruitment and retention, with the Brooklyn office seeking the most, at $1.8 million.

The subject of the city’s opioid problem was discussed at length. Steven Goldstein, Chief Assistant District Attorney with the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, called the popular synthetic opioid fentanyl, which in some forms can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine, “truly a game-changer.” Overdose deaths have increased for six consecutive years in all five boroughs. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a new plan to reduce those deaths.

Staten Island D.A. Michael McMahon, who tied drug crime to domestic violence and crimes against children, touted the importance of the Heroin Overdose Prevention & Education (HOPE) program. “We need to get people in the throes of addiction into treatment earlier,” he said. In response to a question from Minority Leader Steven Matteo, a Staten Island Republican, about the use of naloxone, a drug that is used to cut short overdoses, McMahon said the drug was “saving lives” and that he and his public safety colleagues “understand the public health aspect of this issue.”

Other common budgetary requests centered around upgrading computer systems and finding suitable office space, with Frazer stating that the Brooklyn D.A.’s office had been run out of the same office space for almost 20 years. The Queen’s D.A.’s office’s budget presentation included a $3.8 million request for upgrades in network infrastructure, including cabling, power supplies, and network hardware like routers.

In general, the five D.A. offices have budget allocations that vary widely.

As it stands, the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 allocates $103.9 million for the Manhattan D.A.’s office, an increase of $1.3 million over FY 2017’s adopted budget; $72.3 million for the Bronx D.A.’s office, an increase of $713,360 over FY 2017; $97.1 million for the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, an increase of $886,590 over FY 2017; $63.8 million for the Queens D.A.’s office, an increase of $792,905 over FY 2017; $14.2 million for the Staten Island D.A.’s office, an increase of $263,143 over FY 2017; and $22.4 million for the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, an increase of $231,750 over FY 2017. The total FY 2018 budget for the prosecutors is $373.6 million.

In a notable exchange, Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy commended Vance for charging white supremacist James Jackson with murder in the first and second degrees as an act of terrorism. Jackson, who is white, came to the city from Baltimore with the intention of killing black men, resulting in the stabbing death of 66-year-old Queens native Timothy Caughman. Cornegy called the charge “landmark” and asked if Vance had received pushback from colleagues at the federal level. Vance indicated that he had not.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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District Attorneys Outline Budget Needs at the City Council Thu, 30 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6351-district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das district attorneys city council hearing

The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)


The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.

The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

De Blasio’s preliminary budget, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.

The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its response to his preliminary budget and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.

None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s $82.2 executive budget, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”

“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”

At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”

In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive initiatives aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."

Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.

Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.

While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs Mon, 23 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6060-40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6060-40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 bdb mmv lupo

photo: William Alatriste


Happy new year! As we jump right into 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares for his State of the State and budget address, Mayor Bill de Blasio works to improve his public approval ratings, and the two keep on feuding. There's a lot to look for in the new year, here are about 40 political questions we're asking as the year begins - if you want to share them, answer any, or let us know one we missed, tweet @GothamGazette:

  1. How will the Cuomo-de Blasio feud play out?
  2. Who's next for Preet Bharara?
  3. What will Albany do about preventing public corruption?
    1. Will the LLC loophole close?
    2. Will New York move forward on a public campaign finance system?
    3. Will there be agreement on pension forfeiture?
    4. Will further limits be placed on legislators' outside income?
    5. Will legislator salaries be raised?
    6. Does the budget process become more transparent?
  4. What kind of Assembly reforms will Speaker Carl Heastie allow in terms of the ways in which his legislative house conducts its business?
  5. How does the Governor's minimum wage push wind up?
  6. What happens with the 421-a tax break/affordable housing program?
  7. Will the de Blasio administration show significant progress in turning around struggling schools?
  8. What happens with mayoral control of city schools, as dictated by state policy?
  9. What do teacher evaluations look like next, as dictated by state policy?
  10. What's the future of the Common Core in New York?
  11. Does the opt-out movement continue to grow?
  12. How do the 2016 elections affect which party controls the state Senate?
    1. Who wins the special election for the seat previously held by Dean Skelos?
    2. Who wins other vacant state legislative seats, like that held by Sheldon Silver?
  13. Will de Blasio improve his relationship with Albany Democrats?
  14. Can de Blasio effectively reduce the street and shelter homeless populations?
  15. How will the city and the state approach the homelessness crisis together/separately?
  16. Will New York "raise the age" of criminal responsibility from 16 (to 17 or 18)?
  17. Will de Blasio successfully negotiate paid parental leave with the city's municipal unions after announcing he is offering it to nonunion city employees?
  18. Will the State move on a paid family leave program?
  19. Can Cuomo show more progress in his efforts to revive struggling city and regional economies?
  20. How do the mayor's rezoning proposals fare in the City Council?
  21. How does City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito differentiate herself from Bill de Blasio?
  22. Will the City Council move any bills that the mayor isn't behind - like the Right to Know Act?
    1. Will de Blasio use a veto for the first time as mayor?
  23. What's next for Mark-Viverito as she faces term-limits (at the end of 2017)?
  24. Can the Mayor keep making progress toward his affordable housing goals?
  25. What will city elected officials' compensation increases look like once the mayor and Council come to an agreement based on the compensation commission's recommendations?
    1. Will Council pay increases come with the elimination of lulus and other reforms?
  26. Who will replace Charlie Rangel in Congress?
  27. How does it go for the two new District Attorneys, in the Bronx and on Staten Island?
  28. Can the NYPD continue to drive crime down, reducing murders after a small rise, while also improving community relations?
  29. Will there be progress on Rikers Island?
  30. What steps will the City take to desegregate its schools?
  31. What does Bill de Blasio's cabinet look like after a deputy mayor is replaced and the homeless services department is reassessed?
    1. Will other top officials leave the administration?
  32. What will happen with Uber?
  33. Will the City pass a plastic bag fee?
  34. Is there a compromise on reducing Central Park carriage horses?
  35. Can de Blasio improve his public approval ratings?
  36. Does anyone formidable emerge to declare a challenge to de Blasio for 2017?
  37. What will Comptroller Scott Stringer's charter school audits look like?
    1. What other audits and reports come from Stringer's office?
  38. Will Public Advocate Tish James continue to use litigation against the city to seek change? If so, what suits?
  39. How are New York officials involved in the presidential race?
    1. How will de Blasio, Cuomo, Mark-Viverito and other city and state officials who have endorsed her be involved in Hillary Clinton's campaign?
    2. Who wins New York in the Democratic and Republican primaries?
  40. Who becomes the next President of the United States?

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 Mon, 04 Jan 2016 01:15:12 +0000