Morgy's long tenure coming to an end; DA's race ramps up

Robert Morgenthau

Robert Morgenthau (Credit: Getty)

Ninety-year-old District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has overseen some of the biggest criminal cases of our time. As Manhattan’s iconic district attorney, Morgenthau was the basis for the first prosecutor on “Law & Order.”

So when Leslie Crocker Snyder, Cy Vance Jr or Richard Aborn take the reigns from the retiring DA in January, they will have impossibly large shoes to fill.

All of the candidates note Morgenthau’s three decades of service, including Snyder, who ran a contentious race against him in 2005.  She, Vance and Aborn, all say that they are also ready to move ahead and build on the foundation Morgenthau has laid.

But many observers will tell you that some of his lesser-known accomplishments most stand out and underscore the remarkable length of his tenure.

Before Morgenthau took the helm,  women prosecutors were largely not allowed to try “tawdry” felony cases, said Linda Fairstein, former prosecutor and author.

“Women in a very short time held every important title in the office and did every important kind of work,” Fairstein said. “As a women who experienced the kind of prejudice endemic to the system in the ’60s and ’70s, he was remarkable in his very quiet way.”

He oversaw the office through New York’s crime-plagued era, instituting more efficient prosecution techniques and specialized units to combat crime. He also installed a Community Affairs Unit, which helped better link the community to the district attorney’s office.

The unit, and its work with the Upper West Side residents, aided in getting a violent gang, the Young Talented Children, off the streets, said Marjorie Cohen, executive director of Westside Crime Prevention Program.

“Before that, there really hadn’t been a connection with the district attorney’s office, but when you had that connection, you have a full circle,” Cohen said.

The conviction rate rose from 73 percent in 1974 to 90 percent in recent years, with Morgenthau overseeing the prosecutions of big cases that included those against Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski and preppy killer Robert Chambers.

He hired lawyers like Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor and state attorney general Andrew Cuomo.

Even former detractors like the Detectives Endowment Association sing Morgenthau’s praises.

The union disagreed with Morgenthau’s support of the exoneration of the five men convicted in the Central Park Jogger case after DNA evidence linked another man to the scene.

“That aside, Mr. Morgenthau should be considered one of the heroes of our time,” said association president Michael Palladino.

The candidates vying for Morgenthau's job:

Richard Aborn

Track record: Aborn, 56, has worked for 30 years as a prosecutor, defense attorney and civil litigator. He has run a national gun control organization. He currently is managing partner at Constantine Cannon law firm.

Personal life: He is married with a daughter.

Notable endorsement: Working Families Party

Career highlights: He prosecuted violent felonies, including homicides, under Robert Morgenthau. He has expanded the use of DNA in criminal cases. He also helped revitalize the LAPD and advised other departments. Aborn also investigated the Amadou Diallo shooting.

Candidate platforms: Aborn’s priority is crime prevention. With nonviolent crime, he wants to use technology to identify treatment and crime-prevention methods for people with drug or mental health issues. He also wants to help nonoffenders, including victims of domestic violence and their children to prevent such crimes from affecting them again. He also wants to establish a mental health court and a hate crimes bureau.

Surprising fact: He was the principle strategist behind the Brady Bill.

In his words: “I know what it’s like to try a case, and I know what it’s like to defend somebody whose been accused of crime, and I know what its like to be involved in very large litigations, but I’ve done a lot more than that. I also am now the managing partner of a large law firm, a job much akin in many ways to what the district attorney does.”

Leslie Crocker Snyder

Track record: Snyder, 67, has worked for 35 years as a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a judge.

Personal life: She is married with two grown sons.

Career highlights: As a prosecutor under former District Attorney Frank Hogan and his successor, Robert Morgenthau, she founded the Manhattan Sex Crimes Bureau and was the first woman to try homicides. She served her longest post, 20 years, as judge in the Criminal Court of New York City, the New York State Supreme Court and the Court of Claims. She currently is a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.

Notable endorsement: New York City Detectives Endowment Association

Candidate platforms: She wants the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to form a partnership in the communities it serves, including working with public schools to mentor students, with a goal of helping to prevent and quickly investigating crimes. She also plans on establishing a second-look bureau that would reexamine convictions and reduce the number of wrongful ones.

Surprising fact: Snyder spent six months in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, helping the district attorney’s office there.

In her words: “I’m the only person who’s actually been hands-on in the criminal justice system here in New York for 35 years…My resume is unique because I have had this diversity of experience in every aspect in the criminal justice system.”

Cy Vance

Track record: Vance, 55, has worked for more than 25 years as a prosecutor and a defense attorney as well as a civil litigator. He is Morgenthau’s choice for the job.

Personal life: He is married with a daughter and a son.

Notable endorsement: The New York Times

Career highlights: He worked as a prosecutor under Morgenthau, handling homicide, organized crime, political corruption and white-collar crime cases. He moved to Seattle where he co-founded a law firm, and was a defense and civil litigation attorney. He currently works as a principal at Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer.

Candidate platforms: Vance wants to focus on domestic violence and economic fraud, gang and gun violence and sentencing law reform. He supports alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders and re-entry programs for ex-offenders. He wants to create a community-based program where prosecutors would be assigned to a grouping of police precincts.

Surprising fact: He is an avid fly fisher.

In his words: “I believe I have the broadest experience to lead the District Attorney’s office going forward because of my work on both sides of the criminal justice system—and sentencing law and policy. I think it’s very important that the district attorney’s office not only be fair but be perceived as fair, and I think throughout my career as a lawyer that has been one of my most important goals.”

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