By David Brand
The Queens County Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee released its ratings of the seven Democratic candidates for Queens District Attorney on Thursday, determining that only five candidates were “qualified” ahead of the June 25 primary.
Former Judge Gregory Lasak was the only candidate to earn a rating of “well qualified.” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Rory Lancman, former Queens prosecutor Mina Malik and former Brooklyn prosecutor Jose Nieves were each rated as “qualified.”
Public defender Tiffany Cabán was “not approved” by the bar association’s judiciary committee. Attorney Betty Lugo was not rated because she did not attend an interview with the committee members last week.
Judiciary Committee Chairperson Spiros Tsimbinos cited committee bylaws and declined to share specifics about the interviews with each candidate. Tsimbinos said each candidate filled out a questionnaire before sitting for the interview. Committee members vote by secret ballot, he said.
Speaking generally about the ratings, Tsimbinos said a “not approved” rating means the committee members determined that a candidate, in this case Cabán, was not qualified. Members vote by secret ballot, he said.
“The committee felt that the person was not qualified for the position they were seeking,” Tsimbinos said. “We cannot go into the reasons or the vote but we can only send the ratings.”
He said the members considered various factors, including experience, leadership qualities and administrative experience. “Those are the factors that go into our decision-making,” he said.
He said each of the six rated candidates submitted a questionnaire with their applications and sat for an interview on May 21. The interview took place alongside the New York City Bar Association’s judiciary committee. A NYCBA spokesperson told the Eagle they would not release their ratings until at least next week.
Lasak Campaign Chairperson Bill Driscoll praised the Queens committee’s decision.
“We’re glad that the bar association saw what we know to be true, that Judge Lasak is, bar none, the most qualified candidate in this race,” Driscoll said. “He’s the only candidate who can keep Queens safe while reforming the criminal justice system in a responsible way.”
Lancman criticized the joint committee’s lack of diversity in a tweet following his interview.
“Just left @NYCBarAssn @QueensCountyBar D.A. screening,” Lancman said. “Purported gatekeepers for most diverse county in USA. About 40 lawyers. Every single one white. Not a person of color in room. Eyes roll when I discuss #racism in criminal justice system, no surprise. Hello @NYCBarDiversity!”
A spokesperson for Cabán attributed the rating to “political insiders who are desperate to preserve the status quo rather than bring real reform to the DA’s office and to the county.”
“Tiffany has spent her career as a public defender in daily contact with defendants, assistant district attorneys, law enforcement officers, court and correctional personnel, and judges,” spokesperson Monica Klein said. “She has a deep familiarity with the complexities of practice under New York’s Penal Law and Criminal Procedure Law, as well as extensive work on carceral policy issues — unlike Melinda Katz, a career politician who hasn't spent a day in criminal court.”
Katz said she earned her QCBA rating based on her 30-year experience as an attorney and Queens lawmaker.
“I’ve written laws and shaped policies that have changed thousands of lives across our city and state,” Katz told the Eagle. “The District Attorney’s office has immense responsibility and our next DA will need the sound judgement that only comes with decades of legal experience to steer it in the right direction. My extensive track record in public service, managing a Borough-wide staff and multimillion dollar budget, combined with my legal training makes me uniquely qualified to serve as DA. The Bar Association is confident in my background, and I’m proud to have their approval.”
Katz’s spokesperson Grant Fox added an extra dig at Cabán’s campaign.
“All the candidates agree on the reforms, but only one candidate is unqualified to enact them,” Fox said. “If Tiffany Caban's disorganized and reckless campaign is any indication of how she’d run the District Attorney’s Office it would be a disservice to the criminal justice reform movement and all the Queens residents who rely on a functioning system to keep them safe.”
Lugo did not provide a response to the ratings as of press time.
This story has been updated to include a response from Melinda Katz and Grant Fox.