OPINION: The real test for our new district attorney

Paul E. Kerson is a past president of the Queens County Bar Association. Photo courtesy of Paul Kerson.

Paul E. Kerson is a past president of the Queens County Bar Association. Photo courtesy of Paul Kerson.

By Paul E. Kerson

Special to the Eagle

Come June 25, 2019, we will have a Primary Election of the Democratic Party candidate for Queens County District Attorney.

This is the chance of a lifetime for our County, City and State.

Will our Chief Law Enforcement Officer continue to tolerate the totally lawless environment that is Rikers Island, Attica, Dannemora, Green Haven, Sing Sing, Shawangunk, Five Points, Mohawk, Midstate, Franklin, Auburn, Southport, Coxsackie, Upstate, Elmira, Fishkill, Wende, Bare Hill, Marcy and the rest of the Gulag Archipelago we loosely call “Corrections?”

Will our Chief Law Enforcement Officer continue to preside over a system that takes drug and property crime defendants and forces them into a life in daily terror of broken bones, knife wounds, continual stitches, rape and death?

What kind of system is this? And who presides over sending young men 18 to 25 years old to a life of constant terror and fear of serious injury, rape and death?

To our new Chief Law Enforcement Officer: What do you think happens to our County, City and State when terrorized young men are released from these hellholes after 2 to 4, 3 to 9, 4 to 12 or 5 to 15 year sentences? Is that terror revisited on their own families and neighbors?

Do you seriously think you are accomplishing anything of any value by presiding over a process where State sanctioned violence begets more and more violence, broken bones and broken lives?

What are you planning to do about this deeply flawed process we loosely call “the criminal justice system”?

I will tell you what I did about it. After 19 years on our Assigned Counsel Plan Article 18-B Panels, I commenced suing Corrections – City and State – for the serious personal injuries they imposed on prisoners in their “care, custody and control” sent to them by our District Attorney. Many of our civil cases for serious injuries caused by Corrections were dismissed by judges sympathetic to “the City” and to the State’s Correctional officials.

However, ultimately, my law partners and I were able to prevail. We won a $7.65 million jury verdict in the U.S. District Court against the State Commissioner of Corrections and the Deputy Superintendent of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility for their horrific negligence in locking our client in the same prison cell with another inmate who had issued a death threat against our client. Our client was nearly stabbed to death. He was only saved by the skill of the emergency personnel at the St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains. See Britt v. Garcia, 457 F. 3d 264 (2d Cir. 2006).

Liability was sustained and a new trial ordered on the issue of damages. Before the second trial began, a settlement was reached which cannot be disclosed.

To our new District Attorney: This is the deeply flawed system you seek to head.

If you have any decency in you, you will announce the following new policy: “I will send no one to Rikers Island or any State correctional facility unless and until City and State Corrections clean up their sorry act. I will not continue to provide young male victims age 18 to 25 to the personal injury, rape and death terror machine that we sadly call “Corrections.”

Now that would be a new policy worthy of a democracy that actually produced an elected District Attorney, unlike the prior “elections” which were controlled by party “leaders” with no real choice for voters. My law partners and I were able to end that pernicious practice in Weiss v. Feigenbaum, 558 F. Supp. 265 (E.D.N.Y. 1982).

So, to our seven candidates for our new Chief Law Enforcement Officer, I ask you: Will you restore democracy to our “criminal justice system”? Or will you continue terror-as-usual for our young men 18 to 25 years old who made serious mistakes in their very young lives?

To make sure you are doing your job, start each day with this — A demand to City and State Corrections for the daily report of personal injuries, stabbings, assaults, rape and death of every Queens County prisoner that has been entrusted to them BY YOU.

And don’t let them lie to you. Put undercover police officers in every jail and prison “infirmary” in the City and State to get the true information. Then compare the reports of your undercover officers with the “official” Corrections reports of injuries, stabbings, beatings, rape and death of Queens County inmates sent to Corrections BY YOU.

Then look at yourself in the mirror each morning and ask yourself: “What am I doing today to stop this city and state sanctioned carnage from my own hand.”

For 43 years now I have heard the following from your Office: “This is not my problem, this is Corrections’ problem.”

Wrong. This is your problem now. If you really want this job, tell us what you plan to do about it.

Paul E. Kerson is a past president of the Queens County Bar Association, and a former Assistant District Attorney, Assistant Attorney General and Acting Village Court Justice. He declined to continue as a prosecutor and judge because of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of City and State “Corrections.”