Brooklyn Assemblyman Revives Push For State Commission To Investigate Prosecutors


A brand new invoice in Albany might resurrect hopes for an unbiased company devoted to investigating prosecutorial misconduct. The proposed fee would give New Yorkers a direct avenue for submitting complaints in opposition to prosecutors and make its misconduct findings and investigative proceedings public. It might additionally ship dismissal suggestions to the governor for prosecutors with substantiated misconduct.

Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, a Democrat representing East Flatbush and Canarsie, launched the laws earlier this month. “So many individuals have been wrongfully convicted and, alarmingly, so many of those wrongful convictions have been blamed on misconduct by the prosecutors,” Perry stated. “This can be very essential that when we’ve got a course of to carry your complaints, that the criticism will probably be significantly investigated, that the findings of wrongful convictions will not be buried and discarded.”

Knowledge from the Nationwide Registry of Exonerations exhibits that prosecutorial misconduct has traditionally been a key think about wrongful convictions nationwide. And in New York, felony protection and innocence organizations have lengthy criticized the present accountability mechanisms.

“For many years we’ve got not been capable of depend on the courts or prosecutors’ workplaces themselves to carry particular person prosecutors accountable, even once they have already been discovered to have dedicated critical misconduct,” stated Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel on the Innocence Challenge. “We’d like this fee to supply higher independence and higher transparency to the method of investigating actual grievances made by residents in opposition to the prosecutors who serve their group.”

Proper now, state courts can select to sanction prosecutors privately with out disclosing criticism proceedings to the general public. And district legal professional’s workplaces have ceaselessly retained, and even promoted, prosecutors regardless of main moral violations. A Gothamist investigation final 12 months, for instance, recognized 13 Queens prosecutors who held prime management positions, although their misconduct was flagged in court docket choices that sparked mistrials, put aside verdicts, or nullified convictions.

This 12 months’s meeting invoice shouldn’t be Perry’s first try at enacting a fee on prosecutorial conduct. In 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an earlier model of the laws into regulation. However a court docket struck it down final 12 months, after the District Attorneys Affiliation of New York (DAASNY) raised constitutional issues.

A spokesperson for Albany County District Legal professional David Soares, who was the lead plaintiff in DAASNY’s authorized problem, declined to touch upon the brand new invoice, noting that the litigation regarding the unique invoice continues to be pending.

Morrison, the Innocence Challenge legal professional, says that the grievance committees, which at present examine legal professional misconduct in New York for the courts, will not be geared up to deal with instances involving prosecutors.

“Prosecutorial misconduct instances require loads of experience, and lots of attorneys who work for the grievance committee don’t have a background in felony regulation,” she stated, including that the committees typically fail to correctly examine prosecutorial misconduct particularly due to their heavy workloads, which embrace quite a few probes of attorneys accused of administrative violations like monetary misappropriation or fraud.

Morrison factors to the high-profile current instance of Glenn Kurtzrock, a Suffolk County prosecutor who resigned in 2017 after a protection legal professional discovered he had failed to show over key proof within the homicide trial in opposition to Messiah Booker. Amongst different issues, Kurtzrock withheld supplies implicating another capturing suspect, in addition to data that undermined the credibility of one of many prosecution’s foremost witnesses.

Hours after Booker’s protection group started describing the evidentiary violations, the District Legal professional’s workplace provided to drop Booker’s homicide cost right down to housebreaking, which he accepted. That day, the Suffolk County District Legal professional requested Kurtzrock to resign.

Regardless of the intense nature of Kurtzrock’s violation, the disciplinary penalties from the court docket system itself was pretty restricted. In December, an appellate court docket suspended Kurtzrock’s regulation license for two-years, partially, as a result of the court docket believed that there was “no exhibiting that he engaged in any comparable conduct in every other instances.”

Morrison argues that this discovering was primarily based on a misunderstanding of Kurtzrock’s document. In reality, Kurtzrock had been the lead prosecutor on one other homicide case through which prosecutors withheld proof and secured the conviction of Shawn Lawrence, a Black man who served six years of a 75-to-life sentence in jail earlier than he was lastly exonerated in February of 2018. Even supposing Lawrence’s exoneration was broadly reported on on the time, the court docket didn’t seek advice from the case in its disciplinary choice about Kurtzrock.

“There’s a good quantity of proof that when it got here to Glenn Kurtzrock, they fell down on the job,” Morrison stated, referring to the court-appointed grievance committee who investigated him. “It took almost 4 years for him to be disciplined. The choice that resulted from their investigation and prosecution contained a basic error about his historical past.”

Kurtzrock’s legal professional, who beforehand instructed Newsday his shopper did nothing mistaken within the Lawrence case, declined to remark for this story. In an announcement, a spokesperson for the Suffolk County DA’s workplace, Kurtzrock’s former employer, stated the workplace is reviewing all of his previous instances. “As soon as that evaluation is full, we’ll present a report on our findings to each the general public and to the Grievance Committee so they might decide if any additional investigation or extra sanctions are mandatory,” the DA’s workplace stated.

The invoice to create a brand new state fee on prosecutorial conduct has moved out of committee and is now on the Meeting flooring. A spokesman for Assemblyman Perry stated he hopes will probably be voted on subsequent week.

George Joseph experiences for the Race & Justice Unit at Gothamist/WNYC.