The New York Law Journal - September 8, 2009
No matter who wins the Sept. 15 Democratic primary, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is in for some significant changes. That, at least, is one possible conclusion to be drawn from the responses to a Law Journal questionnaire of the three contenders to replace Robert M. Morgenthau, 90, who will retire at the end of the year after 36 years in office. (See the candidates' full responses to the questionnaire below.) The choice is important to Manhattan residents but has ramifications beyond the borough. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office, first under Frank Hogan and then under Mr. Morgenthau, has been a model for prosecutors nationwide. The contenders are Richard M. Aborn, 57, a managing partner at Constantine Cannon; Leslie Crocker Snyder, 67, a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman; and Cyrus R. Vance Jr., 55, a partner at Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer.
The three candidates have been respectful of Mr. Morgenthau's legacy, but all offer policies that clearly signal their intention to do things differently. Mr. Aborn, for example, says Mr. Morgenthau has been "a great public servant," but says that his retirement presents "a unique moment to think about a revised vision for our criminal justice system." Mr. Vance, whom Mr. Morgenthau has endorsed, praises his former boss' stewardship but promises "the vision and expertise to adopt to new challenges." Notably, in a campaign where all the contenders have been eager to claim the mantle of a "progressive," the candidates share many ideas. Among them are increased emphasis on drug treatment and other alternatives to incarceration; the establishment of specialty courts; targeting domestic violence and hate crimes; and measures to prevent wrongful convictions. Of course, it is uncertain how many of these changes can be implemented, particularly in a time of scarce resources.
The candidates pledge to beef up technology, apply for grants, tap forfeited funds and shift resources. "We can do more with existing resources," says Ms. Snyder. Prosecutors "try few cases and can use their time more productively." Rank-and-file voters may have difficulty distinguishing the nuances of the candidates' policy proposals, so the three have taken pains to highlight aspects of their experience and training that quality them to lead an office with 454 lawyers and 754 staff that recorded almost 34,000 criminal convictions last year. A veteran of the fight for gun control who has served as a consultant to criminal justice agencies, Mr. Aborn says he is "the only candidate building coalitions and turning ideas into action." And he says that, by virtue of his law firm role, he is the only candidate who has served in "a managerial role." Mr. Vance says he is "uniquely qualified" to serve as district attorney because he is "the only candidate who has spent my entire career as an advocate in the courtroom, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney." He adds that he has considerable experience in managing complex cases. Ms. Snyder explains that after working 35 years in "virtually every aspect of Manhattan's criminal justice system," she knows it "inside out. I know what works and what doesn't work." Answers to the New York Law Journal's questionnaire is below:
Race for Manhattan D.A. - September 08, 2009
On Jan. 1, Manhattan will get its first new district attorney in 36 years. Three candidates are running in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary to succeed one of the nation's most well-known prosecutors, Robert M. Morgenthau, who will retire at age 90. Success in the primary is tantamount to election; there is no Republican candidate. All of the attorneys seeking to succeed Mr. Morgenthau once worked for him as a prosecutor. They are Richard M. Aborn, a managing partner at Constantine Cannon; Leslie Crocker Snyder, a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman; and Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a partner at Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer. The Law Journal asked them to discuss their qualifications and their visions for the post-Morgenthau office.
Q: What changes do you anticipate in the district attorney's office if you are elected? Would you adopt policies and/or practices that are not being used now? Please be specific.
Richard M. Aborn
A: Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau leaves behind a great legacy and he should be respected as a great civil servant. With his retirement, we have a unique moment to think about a different vision for our criminal justice system. This is a major opportunity.
Juveniles: I believe we need to be more proactive in preventing crime, particularly juvenile crime. The first thing we have to do is keep kids from getting into trouble in the first place. One of the best ways to prevent crime is a solid after-school program but also seeking specific interventions where appropriate.
Treatment Programs: The first question my office will ask is not how much jail time is appropriate, but whether a treatment program is the most effective intervention. And I will develop a program, PreventStat, to measure the effectiveness of the treatment programs we send offenders to, and make sure that we are using our scarce resources in the most effective way possible.
Gun Control: We have good gun control laws in New York City, but we can't wait until illegal guns get into the city to stop them. By then it's too late. We need to regionalize the fight against guns, by creating a regional compact with neighboring states to go after gun traffickers. That's the cornerstone of my five-point plan to prevent gun violence in New York City.
Racial Bias: I also believe we need to examine racial biases within the criminal justice system. For example, blacks and Latinos are arrested at a disproportionately high rate for marijuana possession. I will work with the New York Police Department to re-evaluate their stop and frisk policies. And I will work to implement policies in the district attorney's office, like ones that were implemented in Madison, Wisconsin, to minimize racial bias within the case screening, sentencing and plea procedures. Discriminatory application of the laws is something I will not tolerate as district attorney and I will focus on not only creating a safe city, but one that is also fair.
Leslie Crocker Snyder
A: My progressive vision for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office includes many proposals that will improve our criminal justice system. Here are a few key priorities:
Alternatives to Incarceration: The criminal justice systemputs too many people in jail, especially younger nonviolent people who can be rehabilitated. While violent offenders that are fairly convicted must receive strict penalties, nonviolent offenders must be given access to alternatives to incarceration, drug treatment and job training. As district attorney, I will divert a percentage of the office's budget to create and partner with existing Alternative to Incarceration Programs (ATIs). These programs will use holistic models that incorporate substance abuse treatment, job training, education and family counseling. I will hire a full-time coordinator with expertise in substance abuse to implement a screening process and monitor the progress of participants.
Community Partnerships: I have long advocated for more active partnerships between the district attorney's office and the communities it serves. I will link assistant district attorneys with each community to form a partnership with community leaders, educators, business leaders, religious leaders, social service agencies and law enforcement. This partnership will move into problem schools and housing developments to attempt to resolve problems before they become criminal. We will work together to provide counseling to the offender and his or her family, drug treatment, job training and links to educational and social services. Our goal is to prevent young people from becoming first offenders. If their conduct makes them first offenders, we must make every effort to prevent them from becoming second offenders. I will aggressively promote community partnerships and alternatives to incarceration.
Problem Solving Courts: The district attorney's office should embrace problem-solving courts and urge the court system to institute more of them. If crimes are nonviolent, supervised treatment, not incarceration, should be the first choice of sentence for many offenders. In various counties in New York state there are drug courts, domestic violence courts, mental health courts, sex offense courts, veterans' courts and community courts. Each of these specialized courts recognizes the unique problems that exist for a particular population. I will urge their broader use.
Criminal Court: Criminal Court is the first place many New Yorkers see their criminal justice system at work. Unfortunately, it is often not a pretty sight.There is a backlog of more than 17,000 cases and almost no misdemeanors are brought to trial. In 2008, more than 2,000 felonies were dismissed for failure to prosecute. I will implement radical changes and new procedures to help deal with the crippling Criminal Court case backlog. (See detailed plan on my Web site, www.snyderforda.com.)
Keeping Our Kids Safe: Under the "Keep Our Kids Safe" program, the district attorney's office would provide the opportunity on a strictly voluntary basis, to create identification "passports" for children up to 14 years of age. These passports will be maintained by parents or guardians and can be transmitted to law enforcement officers if a child goes missing. I will also embark upon far more vigorous efforts against child predators and child pornography.
Training: The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is a great office, but it can be improved. Too often, assistant district attorneys are expected to learn from on-the-job training. I will implement techniques to improve both assistants' trial skills and their knowledge of the law.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
A: The next district attorney must be prepared to keep Manhattan safe in a way that is both fair and effective. The office requires leadership that preserves the legacy of excellence, integrity and justice that has defined and distinguished it throughout the Morgenthau era, while simultaneously providing the vision and expertise to adapt to new challenges. This requires not just being tough on crime, but also being smart about how to fight crime.
Community-Based Justice: I would begin by instituting a program of Community-Based Justice, in which prosecutors are assigned to specific geographic regions of Manhattan. This fundamental change to the organization of the office will allow prosecutors to understand the specific problems faced by different communities, gain the trust of residents, identify crime trends early, better focus investigations and target recidivism. This approach will aid our efforts to combat all types of crime, including gangs, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, sex crimes, identity theft, domestic violence and hate crimes. It will optimize effective localized responses in combination with the office's specialized investigative resources. Assigning trial division bureaus to specific police precincts also allows prosecutors to work with the same officers continually, enabling them to more readily identify incidents and patterns of misconduct. I will also open an office of the district attorney in Washington Heights, to better reach the community.
Conviction Integrity Panel: I will also create a Conviction Integrity Panel, which will use best practices from across the nation to take measures to prevent wrongful convictions. The panel will be tasked with examining every step of an investigation and prosecution—including pre-indictment, pretrial, and post-trial, to ensure that best practices are followed. The panel, comprised of senior assistant district attorneys and outside experts as necessary, will also ensure ongoing training for all lawyers to identify mistakes that typically result in wrongful convictions: misidentification, false confessions, mishandling of evidence and government and legal misconduct.
Alternatives to Incarceration: I will always be committed to preventing as well as prosecuting crimes. That means working to find alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders (especially those with drug or psychiatric issues), it means setting up re-entry programs for former inmates, and it means reaching into communities and partnering with neighborhood organizations to make sure that we are stopping crimes before they occur.
Racial Bias: As district attorney, I will frankly address the issue of racial bias in law enforcement. The office will partner with the Vera Institute of Justice to conduct a review of our prosecutorial decisions and policies to uncover any instances of racial bias. The Vera Institute is a non-partisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice, and they have successfully piloted such programs in district attorney offices across the nation. If racial bias, conscious or unconscious, is identified, we will work swiftly and decisively to correct it.
Domestic Violence: We must also change the way we look at domestic violence and recognize that these cases, in addition to being criminal offenses, have created a public health crisis. Domestic violence offenses have resisted the trend of declining crime in New York City, and we must work much harder to prevent these crimes. Among other steps, I will work to establish a Family Justice Center in Northern Manhattan, where a disproportionate number of the county's domestic violence cases are reported, that will integrate essential services for victims under one roof. Because domestic violence often escalates over time, I will work to increase sentences for repeat offenders. I will also tailor treatment initiatives to the goal of ending ongoing cycles of domestic violence. I will devote new resources and attention to prosecuting acquaintance rape cases and improve the prosecution of intimate partner violence including cases involving LGBT couples. It is time to make these cases a top priority.
Specialized Courts: I will work to create more specialty courts and expand the existing drug courts and other community courts that effectively operate on a larger scale in many counties of New York state. These specialty courts reduce judicial backlog and allow an increased number of rehabilitation-oriented sentences where appropriate, which in turn reduces recidivism. In particular, I will lobby for the creation of a Mental Health Court in Manhattan, as has been done in Brooklyn and the Bronx, as well as create a Mental Health Unit of specially trained assistant district attorneys. The prevalence of serious mental illness among our jail and prison population is far higher than it is among the general population. Jails and prisons are simply not equipped to effectively treat mentally ill offenders. They spend more time in jail than other prisoners and are more likely to commit additional crimes once released. We must break this cycle. The goal of the Mental Health Court is to give mentally ill defendants effective, evidence-based treatment. This approach will protect the community by reducing the number of crimes committed by offenders with psychiatric illnesses. It will also reduce costs and help integrate people with psychiatric disorders back into the community so they may become law-abiding, productive members of society. As Manhattan district attorney, my office will also provide a veteran justice outreach specialist to identify and assist veterans who come into the criminal justice system, who will serve as part of the Mental Health Unit.
Q: Would you establish additional specialized bureaus? Which ones?
Aborn: Hate Crimes Unit: Now is a key time to address hate crimes within Manhattan. The rash of hate crimes on the Upper East Side has revealed that we need to be constantly vigilant even in this day and age. I will create a specialized Hate Crimes Unit in the district attorney's office with an expertise in handling bias-related offenses. The Hate Crimes Unit would work with the Community Affairs Unit to maintain close relationships with community groups representing New Yorkers most likely to be the targets of bias-related crimes.
Domestic Violence Bureau: Domestic violence cases are different from other types of prosecutions—especially those involving stranger-on-stranger violence. Domestic violence victims are often terrified to proceed against perpetrators who know where they can find them and may face family and community opposition to cooperating with criminal justice officials. I will have a fully staffed domestic violence bureau with specialized assistant district attorneys.
Snyder: Many of my policy proposals include establishing specialized bureaus. A few examples:
Second Look Bureau: The main responsibility of a district attorney is to see that justice is done in every case. Ideally, our criminal justice system would "get it right" every time and a "first look" would be sufficient. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I have long proposed the creation of a Second Look Bureau to remedy prosecutorial mistakes and avoid wrongful convictions. The bureau will operate as an independent unit in the office. The Second Look Bureau will be composed of experienced attorneys who have no involvement in the original cases and therefore no vested interest in preserving their convictions. They will review and investigate whether a credible basis exists for re-examining a conviction at any point. If a substantial error or misconduct is discovered, the bureau will take appropriate action, which may include asking for a reversal or a new trial. The bureau will also create regular reports and conduct training for assistants to prevent mistakes from happening again. This bureau will be supplemented by many other initiatives to prevent wrongful convictions: i.e. improved identification procedures, double blind line-ups and expansion of DNA use, as well as improved training for assistants. Appropriate action will be taken to discipline any prosecutor who engages in misconduct.
Housing Bureau: New York City has made great progress when it comes to residents feeling safe and secure in their homes, but more must be done. Too many people feel they have no recourse against abusive landlords. Too many public housing residents still deal with the horrors of drugs and guns on a daily basis. There are several crucial steps that must be taken to protect tenants struggling with abusive landlords and residents of public housing plagued by crime and drugs. To combat these two separate but equally critical problems, I will create a Housing Bureau. The bureau will maintain a centralized, computerized repository of complaints against landlords, so that assistant district attorneys can track landlords who prey on and abuse tenants and bring significant cases against them. It will coordinate with civil authorities responsible for housing oversight to identify landlords whose buildings are persistent code violators and develop criminal cases where appropriate. The bureau will also prosecute landlords who foster or tolerate criminal activity or who knowingly rent to drug dealers or others engaging in criminal activities. The district attorney's office must bring together the Narcotics Eviction Program, which uses a civil eviction statute to remove drug dealers from residential and commercial buildings, and the Formal Trespass Affidavit Program, which authorizes local police to perform "vertical" patrols in buildings. Merging these two programs under the authority of the Housing Bureau would allow for better organization and communication and more vigorous enforcement, while taking care that community complaints of indiscriminate arrests are addressed. By using innovative crime-prevention techniques, such as the involvement of community leaders, residents and social service agencies along with law enforcement, to lessen crime in public housing, the Housing Bureau can achieve the dual purpose of protecting tenants from abusive landlords and abusive living environments.
Domestic Violence Bureau: Domestic violence is an under-reported crime because victims are often afraid to seek help or are too intimidated by their batterers to do so. Almost 65 percent of domestic violence cases in Manhattan are dismissed. The district attorney's office must support victims, which will help ensure their safety and bring their abusers to justice. I will take bold steps to combat this complex problem, including the creation of a Domestic Violence Bureau. The bureau will be dedicated to handling only domestic violence cases. The bureau chief and assistant district attorneys will receive regular training in handling the sensitive issues arising from domestic violence. Assistants will establish contact with victims shortly after incidents occur, and will maintain a line of contact long after a case has been resolved. They will work to assist victims, including obtaining temporary orders of protection when appropriate. The district attorney's office must also improve the use of evidence-based prosecutions. If victims are not available to testify against their abusers, or refuse to do so, there will often be enough other evidence, such as medical records, police testimony or 911 calls, to proceed with the prosecution. Working closely with the police department, the office will improve the collection and preservation of evidence so that a prosecution without the victim's testimony is more likely to proceed. The office will also work with hospitals and health care providers to encourage victims to report abuse.
Counter-Terrorism Bureau: It is time to establish a trained team of experts in a single unit: the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. It will be headed by an assistant district attorney with the necessary security clearance to access classified information, and the experience to bring together otherwise disparate investigations into a single effective investigation and prosecution based on a comprehensive strategy. The office will bring to bear in a single bureau experts with experience in investigating all aspects of counter-terrorism, from the front organization raising funds, to the money-launderers who clean the money; from the facilitators who rent the apartments, to the importers who smuggle weapons and other dangerous material into our city; from the drug dealers whose profits support the terrorist activities, to the forgers who prepare the false documents. The bureau will link shared databases across units within the office to ensure that information is shared. Assistants from typically isolated units will be brought together for comprehensive briefings to foster coordinated and efficient information sharing. The bureau will establish ongoing information-sharing relationships with all of the agencies operating in and around New York County that have responsibility for any component of counter-terrorism. These formal relationships are essential—history has shown that investigative failures are inevitable when one works in isolation. The district attorney's office must evolve to address modern threats. We need an approach that applies all of the elements of our investigative power. We need to identify and integrate the capabilities of multiple agencies and disciplines to defeat today's threats.
Vance: Specialized bureaus allow prosecutors to develop the expertise and specialized knowledge to help us prosecute crime in the most thorough and efficient way possible. Such units already exist for domestic violence, economic crimes such as fraud, racketeering and other special white-collar prosecutions and narcotics cases and I believe we need to approach other crimes in the same way.
Public Integrity Unit: For example, we should establish a Public Integrity Unit to combat public corruption and prosecute public officials who misuse taxpayer dollars for personal gain.
Hate Crimes Unit: Hate crimes will be handled by a specialized bureau to combat the disturbing rise of these crimes in New York County. Assistant district attorneys will be trained to recognize the nuances required to obtain convictions in hate crime cases and how to overcome these issues.
Safe Housing Unit: I will establish a Safe Housing Unit to combat abusive landlords, denial of basic services, unsafe buildings and illegal evictions. Housing cases are extremely technical, and the office would be well served by having a full unit of specialists.
Counter-Terror Unit: A team of experienced counter-terror prosecutors and investigators will be assembled to handle terrorism investigations, as well as crimes that support terrorism—such as credit card fraud, money laundering, false identification, tax evasion, theft and weapons possession. Working with the police department and federal authorities, this team will "connect the dots" and will understand the bigger picture of terrorism and the role that common crimes can play in the identification of terrorist organizations. They will be led by a counter-terror coordinator, reporting directly to the district attorney. The coordinator will have a background in counter-terrorism and security.
Environmental Crimes Unit: I will establish an Environmental Crimes Unit to deal with the specific issues that New Yorkers face in maintaining a clean and healthy living environment. The unit will work in tandem with local agencies on prevention initiatives. The district attorney's office must hold polluters accountable and protect the health of Manhattan residents.
Immigration Affairs Unit: In addition to these, I will elevate the Immigrant Affairs Program to full unit status to better address the issues of fraud, wage discrimination and fear of reporting crime that plagues immigrant communities.
Q: Do you anticipate that additional resources will be available to implement your programs? If no new resources can be anticipated, how would you reallocate existing resources or find new sources of funding? Would cuts be required in other areas?
Aborn: We are currently in the midst of troubling financial times and departments all across the city, the state and the country have been facing budget cuts. While the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has been fortunate and remained relatively unscathed by these cuts, it is naïve to think we have unlimited funds at our disposal.
Richard M. Aborn, 57
Partner, Constantine Cannon, 2004-present
President, Constantine & Aborn Advisory Services, 2004-present
Other legal experience:Director, NYPD Misconduct Investigation Unit, Office of the Public Advocate, 1999-2001; President, Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, 1992-1996
Member, Aborn & Anesi, 1984-1994; Assistant district attorney, New York County District Attorney's Office, 1979-1984
Education: J.D., John Marshall Law School 1979; B.A., University of Dubuque, 1974
Personal: Born in New York City; married for 18 years to Ingrid Rossellini, a professor of Italian literature at New York University; one daughter
Snyder: We will seek additional resources via grants and appropriate asset forfeiture. However, by vastly improving technology immediately, we will operate far more efficiently, track crime patterns electronically and conserve resources. Cuts will be made in unnecessary programs, and more resources will be utilized to supplement alternatives to incarceration. We can also do more with existing resources; prosecutors try few cases and can use their time more productively.
Vance: I plan to build on the recent victories in white-collar crime prosecutions and settlements that generated $350 million for New York City and state taxpayers over the past year alone. I am committed to making white-collar crime a top priority, and my deep experience in this area will enable the office to win an even greater number of cases and reach better settlements. Some of this money will go directly to the district attorney's office and can provide additional funding needed to make vital changes in programming. Additionally, erasing the backlog of cases in the criminal courts would go a long way toward freeing up other resources and would allow us to reassign lawyers to specific neighborhoods or to highly specialized units, including new programs. Since 1997, there has been a 24 percent increase in Criminal Court caseload. Yet the number of judges available to try cases has remained static. This, among other problems, has led to a huge Criminal Court backlog, inundating certain prosecutors, Legal Aid lawyers and judges with excessive caseloads. Consequently, cases often cannot be investigated as thoroughly and promptly as justice requires; judges must manage over-crowded dockets that affect their ability to focus on each case individually. Other cases are dismissed on speedy trial grounds. Inevitably, this reality undermines public confidence in our justice system. One of my first priorities will be to work with all branches of government, and the agencies involved, increasing trial capacity for misdemeanors. This includes working with the Office of Court Administration toward the reassignment of more judges, on a temporary basis, to the Criminal Court. These changes will improve not only the district attorney's office, but the entire criminal justice system and the communities in which they serve.
Q: What in your background and/or experience makes you better equipped than your adversaries to manage an office that has a $74 million budget and employs 500 attorneys?
Aborn: In addition to having been a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I am currently a managing partner of Constantine Cannon, a nationally recognized law firm. Depending on the firm's caseload, I manage anywhere from 100 to 200 employees and a substantial budget. To my knowledge, I am the only candidate who has served in such a managerial role. Moreover, I am the only candidate with experience building broad coalitions and turning ideas into action. As the president of Jim and Sarah Brady's gun control organization I was the principal strategist behind landmark gun control legislation which passed through a hostile Congress despite the well-funded efforts of the National Rifle Association. We built a national coalition of grass roots organizations, elected officials, and other leaders to take on seemingly insurmountable challenges and succeeded. I have also helped large organizations like the Los Angeles Police Department implement comprehensive transition plans. As Manhattan district attorney, I will apply those tested leadership skills to not only run the office, but bring about real change.
Snyder: I have worked for over 35 years in virtually every aspect of Manhattan's criminal justice system. As a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for nine years, I founded and led the Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau, the first in the nation and a model throughout the country. I am the co-author of important legislation including New York's Rape Shield Law and other reforms of the Penal Law.
Leslie Crocker Snyder, 67
Partner, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, 2003-present
Other Legal Experience: Prosecuted violent career criminals on a U.S. Department of Justice grant at the New Orleans District Attorney's Office, pro bono, 2007; Acting Supreme Court justice, Manhattan, 1986-2003; Criminal Court judge, Manhattan, 1983-1986
Deputy criminal justice coordinator (head of arson strike force), Office of the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator, 1982-1983; Private criminal practice, 1979-72
Chief of Trials, Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Corruption in the Criminal Justice System, 1976-79; Chief, sex crimes unit, Manhattan District Attorney's Office, 1974-76; assistant district attorney, 1968-1974
Education: J.D., Case-Western Reserve Law School, 1966 Certificate, Harvard-Radcliffe Graduate Program in Business Administration, 1963; B.A., Radcliffe College, 1962
Personal: Born in New York City, married for more than 40 years to Dr. Frederic E. Snyder, a retired pediatrician; two sons
After leaving the office, I became a special assistant attorney general, prosecuting corruption in the criminal justice system. I was in charge of numerous assistant prosecutors and staff as well as all legal training and recruiting. I was in private practice for three years before returning to public service as the deputy criminal justice coordinator and head of the arson strike force at the office of the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator. In 1983, I was appointed as a judge to the Criminal Court of New York City and then to Supreme Court and the Court of Claims. I presided primarily over the highest level "A-1" multiple defendant narcotics felonies, drug gangs, organized crime and "white-collar" criminal cases, including the trials of New York City's most violent drug gangs: the "Gheri Curls," the "Wild Cowboys," the "Young Talented Children" and the "Natural Born Killers," among others. I also presided over the carting or "Garbage" case, which led to the reform of the private sanitation industry in New York City. While on the bench, I helped young, nonviolent offenders avoid the cycle of incarceration by placing them in alternative programs, such as the holistic rehabilitation program Abraham House and the Andrew Glover Youth Program. I also adopted a public school to provide students with a hands-on introduction to the legal process. I am on the board of the Kips Bay Boys' and Girls'Club, D.A.R.E., and Abraham House. I spent six months in 2007 on a U.S. Department of Justice grant, prosecuting career violent felons in New Orleans and assisting the criminal justice system with post-Katrina problems. At all stages of my career, I have run bureaus and managed offices, task forces and my courtroom, which was frequently filled with large gangs, security and court personnel. I also learned management skills at the Harvard Business School. After 35 years, I know Manhattan's criminal justice system inside and out. I've seen what works and what doesn't, and it is this experience that informs my plans for improving the district attorney's office so it better serves all New Yorkers. I believe I have a depth and diversity of experience that is unmatched by my opponents.
Q: What priority should the district attorney's office give to the prosecution of white-collar crime? How does that differ from the priority it holds in the office today?
Aborn: I believe the office must continue a strong approach to investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes, especially those that can result in New Yorkers losing their homes and savings. We need to have a comprehensive approach, making sure that regulatory government agencies are in communication with the office. We also must establish a hotline in which citizens can call with questions or concerns in regards to these issues. Often crimes are not prosecuted until many have fallen victim to a scam because individuals do not know to report it or do not realize they have been the victim of a prosecutable crime. The prosecution of white-collar crime is a high priority in the current office, but I believe we can be more aggressive in not only prosecuting these offenses, but more efficient in investigating them. Using the latest technologies and analytic software will help us see non-obvious connections between people, places and things, which will improve the efficacy of our white-collar investigations.
Snyder: The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has a long and proud tradition of bringing white-collar criminals to justice. I will build on this legacy while ensuring that the prosecutors in my office have the training and leadership necessary to meet the challenges presented by our current financial and economic crisis and by the growing sophistication of white-collar criminals. Training in the area of white-collar crime must be improved. This will involve having financial experts, FINRA, the SEC and major financial institutions lecture assistants on their areas of expertise, as well as having experienced prosecutors and expert white-collar defense attorneys participate in training. While there will be specialized bureaus in many aspects of white-collar crimes, all assistants need to know how to prosecute these critical crimes. I will bring a renewed focus to protecting the residents of Manhattan from these crimes. In particular, we will hold accountable those who prey on our most vulnerable residents, especially the elderly and the poor. We will prosecute the perpetrators of mortgage fraud, identity theft, predatory lending, consumer fraud, and other offenses that reach into the homes and batter the personal finances of Manhattan residents. We must investigate and prosecute those who take advantage of struggling Manhattan residents by engaging in debt collection fraud or deceptive practices in connection with debt consolidation. The district attorney's office will continue to emphasize the investigation and prosecution of traditional white-collar crime. We will prosecute individuals and entities that engage in securities fraud, including those who deceive the investing public about the value of the securities they sell or the performance of their businesses, and those who buy and sell securities using insider information. We will hold accountable those who increase the cost and decrease the quality of health care by engaging in insurance and other health care fraud, and those who use the Internet to steal or commit fraud.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., 55
Partner, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer, 2004-present
Other legal experience: Founding partner, McNaul Ebel, Nawrot Helgren and Vance, 1995-2004; Partner, Culp, Dwyer, Guterson & Grader in Seattle, 1988-1995; Assistant district attorney, New York County District Attorney's Office, 1982-1988
Education: J.D., Georgetown University Law School, 1982; B.A., Yale University, 1977
Personal: Born in New York City; married for 25 years to Peggy McDonnell, a photographer; two children
Vance: Once thought to be "victimless," we have learned all too well that white-collar crime hurts everyone, locally and globally. It can ruin the lives of small business owners, students in need of financial aid or retirees who rely on their life savings. It can also be used to fund terrorist organizations. These crimes are no less important than any other criminal act, and should be prosecuted just as vigorously. Under Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has consistently been at the forefront of economic crime prosecution. But given the speed of changing technologies and the status of New York City as a global financial hub, we must remain ever-vigilant. As a prosecutor and trial lawyer who has specialized in white-collar crime for 25 years, I know how to evaluate and build complex cases. As district attorney, I will make economic crime a top priority. Prioritizing white-collar crime is one reason why The New York Times endorsed me over my opponents. As district attorney, I will preserve the ideals and the legacy of Robert Morgenthau, but I will also build upon his successes by bringing needed changes to the office. I will enact measures to ensure cases be prosecuted efficiently, but not at the expense of justice. I will rehabilitate criminals who deserve a second chance and punish those who do not.