Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The District Attorney Dilemma?

You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.
Henry Ford

-- 1863 - 1947

With the media second-guessing Cy Vance, Jr. over a very high profile prosecution, the question becomes what is not known, as opposed to what IS known about the case. No one doubts that there was some form of sexual contact, but it becomes murky beyond that. The fact that the current statistics on rape in New York are frightening -- up by 62%, -- may be the subtext to this case, however. It’s the kind of crime and numbers that are very disturbing to women as well as men in a civilized society. D.A.’s are pressured by such alarming statistics.

What was essentially a slap on the wrist, in the recent case involving two police officers accused of rape, may have become the backdrop for potential criticism of the D.A. – despite the fact that Vance’s office vigorously prosecuted the case. But, what is more likely, is that the speeding to indictment of DSK, a powerful international politician, may have backfired. Strauss-Kahn, as head of the IMF and previously, perhaps, in line to run for President of France, is not a man without resources -- despite his obvious lapses of judgment. And, if there is an undercurrent to this matter, the speed of indictment, as against the rising numbers of sexual crimes in our city, helped create a public rush to judgment. The publicity, the media, loves a good Greek Tragedy – a man of high station brought low by hubris. And, schadenfreude, is not just a “disease” known to journalists and the paparazzi.
But, unlike other D.A.’s, Vance does support the original American theory of Justice – that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It’s just that the media makes that concept unwieldy. In New York there are many media voices, but, in suburbs like the Hamptons, it speaks with one voice – a fearful one where the D.A. controls every utterance – or else.

Meanwhile, after leaving Riker’s Island, Strauss-Kahn hired one of the best criminal lawyers in the country and some of the best investigators on the planet. And, he also hired a prestigious “consulting” firm of former Intelligence officers to work on the case. You don’t want former U.S. Attorneys, Secret Service Special Agents, retired CIA, and FBI investigative specialists on your ass if you have anything to hide. And, apparently, the victim did. Spooks are smart and dispassionate about their business. When they are in private practice -- you don’t want to go there. As occurred in the recent retaliatory strike against Bin Laden, a “dish served cold” is an appropriate phrase that comes to mind.

But, what needs to be remembered here is that Cy Vance, Jr. ran for office as a Progressive. And during an interview we had several years ago in SoHo, what was clear about him is that he had purpose and was on a mission to open up the D.A.’s office, modernize it, and bring it to the people in the community. He has been doing that. Bob Morgenthau supported Vance and he was the clear choice over Leslie Crocker-Snyder, a Conservative take-no-prisoners, former Judge.

During an interview of former D.A. Bob Morgenthau, known as “the Boss” he spoke of the heritage of the Hogan office and his groundbreaking DNA indictments in absentia – which preserved the statute of limitations on rape. In his nineties, though, he had had enough and wanted Vance to take his place.
Richard Aborn, who has done a tremendous job as head of the Citizen’s Crime Commission was also in the running, but had a less cohesive campaign organization. He was, nevertheless, an impressive Progressive candidate as well as an attractive candidate for the office. In our interview he was clearly a powerful presence.

If the Manhattan D.A. made mistakes, the Hobson’s choice here may have been in deciding to not allow Strauss-Kahn to leave the country as opposed to speedily presenting the case for indictment as justification. While there was a fear that he would flee, he was an internationally known politician. He is not Roman Polanski. The vision of the Port Authority Police, whose most difficult work is patrolling the Holland Tunnel entrance for “terrorists,” dragging the President of the IMF off of a plane – is more akin to a Leslie Nielsen movie – than high-stakes law enforcement.

Cy Vance is a District Attorney who is ethical and effective. His office may have erred on the side of caution and had the good grace to face the music personally. The Media is not always kind. But, in Manhattan, at least, it is not owned. Freedom of the Press is alive and well – unlike Suffolk County where it is owned and operated by the District Attorney.

Cy Vance will heal from this, at worst, sin of omission and we should be grateful to have a District Attorney who deals in Justice, not in retaliation and intimidation to do his job.