Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice Tuesday asked a judge to name a former assistant state attorney general under Eliot Spitzer as special prosecutor to probe "possible past impropriety" at the embattled county police crime lab.
Rice filed papers Tuesday with State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano, the administrative judge of Nassau County, seeking appointment of Eric Dinallo, 47, currently a partner at the Manhattan law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Dinallo, like Rice, was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for attorney general last fall.
"Mr. Dinallo has been a leading investigative attorney and regulator at the center of some of New York's most innovative and important legal cases, and throughout his career he's been renowned for his legal acumen and his uncompromising integrity," Rice said.
Rice said Dinallo would conduct the investigation without cost to the county.
Rice and County Executive Edward Mangano ordered the crime lab closed on Friday. Until recently, the lab did work such as testing blood-alcohol content, ballistics, narcotics and fingerprints. But a national accreditation group placed it on probation Dec. 3, citing 26 violations. It is the only one of nearly 400 accredited labs nationwide on probation, and one of only two to have been put on probation twice.
The flawed lab work has triggered questions about who knew what and when. If an investigation shows police knew evidence was compromised and did nothing, hundreds of arrests and criminal convictions could be challenged, legal experts have said.
Rice said a special prosecutor's lab probe might also include an examination of the accrediting body, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. Ralph Keaton, executive director of the accrediting group, said he had no comment.
Dinallo, as an assistant state attorney general, headed the Investor Protection Bureau and helped combat fraud on Wall Street, resulting in a $1.4-billion settlement from some of the country's largest financial firms.
"Eric is a perfect choice to dig into a messy situation," Spitzer said Tuesday.
Michael Cherkasky, who was a top assistant to former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, worked with Dinallo in that office and said, "I think Eric is smart and tough and is a terrific lawyer. He will be great."
Morgenthau called Dinallo a man of "absolute integrity."
Also Tuesday, the Nassau County Bar Association announced formation of a task force of leading defense attorneys and representatives of other legal organizations to examine the lab policies and procedures.
"The task force will recommend what is needed to re-establish the credibility of the crime lab going forward," bar association president Marc Gann said.
He called selection of a special prosecutor "a step in the right direction."
But William Kephart, president of the Nassau County Criminal Courts Bar Association, said a judge or a U.S. attorney - not the district attorney - should be involved in picking the special prosecutor.
Garden City defense attorney Brian Griffin questioned Dinallo's independence from Rice. Griffin has challenged the August 2010 aggravated vehicular assault conviction of his client, Erin Marino of Hicksville, because of maintenance problems with some blood-alcohol equipment at the lab.
Rice spokesman Chris Munzing said Dinallo would act as the district attorney for the case and would not report to Rice.
With Anthony M. DeStefano