Advocates Rally for Prosecutorial Watchdog Despite DA Resistance

By David Brand

More than 100 organizations rallied in New York City Monday to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a law creating a prosecutorial misconduct commission.

The watchdog would monitor and investigate claims of prosecutorial misconduct involving the state’s 62 district attorney offices.

“New York has an ugly stain as one of the states with the most wrongful convictions,” said Assembly Member Nick Perry from Brooklyn during a rally at 60 Centre Street Monday. “The governor should stand with us and sign this law.”

The bipartisan bill passed both the Republican-controlled State Senate and the Democratic-controlled State Assembly during the last legislative session but has encountered stiff opposition from district attorneys statewide, including in Queens.

In June, Queens DA Richard Brown penned an op-ed criticizing the bill in the New York Law Journal.

“The legislature has elected to pass legislation that subjects prosecutors, alone among those who practice law, to a duplicative and intrusive process that is not only violative of the state constitution, but will surely cause delay to the progress of ongoing investigations and prosecutions, much to the detriment of all New Yorkers,” Brown said. “It is my hope that the governor, upon due consideration, exercises a veto of this ill-conceived proposal.”

But advocates say the commission is necessary to investigate instances of misconduct that can cost wrongfully convicted people decades of their lives and taxpayers millions of dollars.

In 2003, for example, a court found that a Queens prosecutors lied and tolerated lies by witnesses in order to convict a man of a murder inside a pool-hall, the New York Times reported. When the wrongfully convicted man was released from prison, he sued the city for $3.5 million.

In an open letter to the governor, the coalition of organizations known as It Could Happen to You, said the commission would further Cuomo’s stated goal of overhauling the criminal justice system and reflect the will of the state.

“You have long spoken on the urgent need for comprehensive criminal justice reform in New York State,” the letter said. “Today, we urge you to seize this unique moment of broad bipartisan agreement and sign legislation to establish a New York State Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.”

Derrick Hamilton, a Brooklyn man who spent 21 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit, spoke out at the rally Tuesday.

“We aren’t asking Governor Cuomo to do us a favor, it’s not because we want to,” Hamilton said. “It’s because this needs to happen because real human beings are being affected.