By David Brand
Queens native Betty Lugo, a former prosecutor and a founding partner in the first Latina-owned law firm in New York City, formally announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Queens District Attorney at a rally outside Queens Borough Hall on Thursday.
Lugo served as an assistant district attorney in the Nassau County DA’s Office before co-founding Pacheco & Lugo, PLLC in 1992.
“Queens needs true justice for all, a well rounded professional with a prosecutorial background who cares about victims, families and society as a whole,” she said in a statement. “Queens needs outreach, education, help with mental illness, veterans courts, criminal justice reform and mediation of low-level non-violent offenses.”
Lugo was born in Elmhurst and lives in Maspeth. She earned her law degree from Albany Law School of Union University. She is past president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, a role she held from 2015 to 2017.
Lugo told the Eagle that her varied legal experiences and diverse roots set her apart from her competitors.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a community leader and an experienced prosecutor and trial attorney,” she said.
Lugo said she would join the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York (DAASNY), though she disagrees with the organization’s opposition to open discovery and a state prosecutorial conduct commission.
“There should be open discovery already,” she said. “Open discovery allows both sides, prosecution and defense, to arrive at a prompt resolution.”
She challenged prosecutors to better understand the communities where the majority of Queens defendants — especially low-income people color — come from.
“People have to understand that Queens is such a diverse county where everybody comes from different backgrounds,” she said. “Police have to learn about the community and prosecutors have to as well.”
She also pledged to build bridges between the DA’s office and communities.
“Prosecutors can’t live in a vacuum,” she said. “If I live in Whitestone or College Point and I’m prosecuting someone from Far Rockaway or Jamaica, I should get to know the neighborhoods, why the crime was committed, what motivated the crime.”
A day after NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen was laid to rest after being shot and killed on Feb. 12, Lugo said she would seek murder charges against the two men whose alleged robbery attempt led to Simonsen’s death by “friendly fire.”
“In the way it was done, that is felony murder,” she said. “That has to be prosecuted as felony murder. That’s what the law says. The police put themselves on the line [and] they protect us every day.”
Lugo said she plans to travel by bus for a borough-wide “listening tour” starting next week.
“I will be firm but fair,” she said. “I’m not going to tolerate crime but I’m also going to prosecute with compassion and mercy when necessary.
Lugo enters a crowded field of contenders for the Democratic nomination for DA.
Public defender Tiffany Cabán, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Rory Lancman, Former Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, former Queens prosecutor and Civilian Complaint Review Board chair Mina Malik and State Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves have each declared their candidacies for the Democratic nomination for Queens DA.
The primary election is scheduled for June.