A rigorous, far-reaching and unbiased investigation of the Nassau police crime laboratory is an absolute necessity.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice correctly realizes she can't run the investigation, but she also shouldn't have any say in who does, or how they operate. Rice's office used the results the lab produced to prosecute cases, and any influence she has on the investigation will be perceived as a conflict.
On Tuesday, Rice asked State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Marano, the county's administrative judge, to name attorney Eric Dinallo to head an investigation of the now-closed lab. The better way to ensure the integrity of the probe is for either Rice or County Executive Edward Mangano to ask Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo or Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both of whom have the statutory authority, to appoint an independent prosecutor.
The lab was placed on probation by its accrediting board in December for the second time since 2006. Because the lab operated so shoddily, past convictions and sentences are in question, current charges may be thrown out and the county could be liable for millions of dollars in attorneys' fees and damages.
Dinallo, a partner at a Manhattan law firm, was superintendent of the state Insurance Department and served both in the Manhattan district attorney's office and the state attorney general's office. Like Rice, he ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary campaign for state attorney general last year. He has a fine reputation. He would likely do a fine job. The only reason he should not be selected is that Rice recommended him.
Problems at the lab have besmirched more than just the facility and the police department. They also call into question, fairly or not, the integrity of the office of the Nassau district attorney.
To move past this, several things must happen:
The lab's past and recent conduct must be investigated to determine exactly what happened, why, who knew and when they knew. Was it sheer incompetence or was there any intent to falsify results?
Evidence in past cases must be analyzed as much as possible for fair, accurate results.
Those who were convicted due to questionable Nassau lab results, or possibly even pleaded guilty based on them, must be identified, informed of their rights and provided with counsel.
Evidence in current cases must be tested quickly and accurately by an outside lab.
If there were a belief that the probe of the lab, the police and the prosecutions was subject to the political influence that is Nassau's hallmark, public confidence would not be restored. This is the risk of having Rice handpick who will do the job. The investigation's purpose is to determine whether anyone was wrongfully convicted and to restore faith in the county's criminal justice system. A lot needs to be done to make this right, and none of it will work absent an unimpeachable process.