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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Brown: Restore trust in Suffolk DA’s office — now, not later

Thomas Spota’s former office has been shaken by a scandal and his resignation.

Suffolk District Attorney-elect Tim Sini has said he

Suffolk District Attorney-elect Tim Sini has said he is weighing the possibility of taking office sooner than Jan. 1, 2018, "to ensure the wheels of justice operate in an effective way." Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

It’s not surprising that a staffer for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says that the governor has no plans to appoint an interim Suffolk County district attorney to serve until DA-elect Tim Sini takes office in January.

Cuomo’s decision in 2015 not to appoint an interim in Nassau — after former DA Kathleen Rice was elected to Congress — left a chief deputy, Madeline Singas, in charge for a year.

The length of Singas’ tenure made her the longest-serving temporary district attorney since Republican Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, in 1949, appointed Frank Gulotta to serve out the remaining five months of James Gehrig’s term until an election.

Gulotta went on to win several full terms until 1958, when he became a judge. His son, Thomas, is a former Nassau county executive. Singas also would go on to win election to her current post as Nassau district attorney.

In Suffolk, chief assistant DA Emily Constant is replacing DA Thomas Spota, who is fighting federal obstruction of justice charges and resigned recently.

Cuomo could appoint an interim district attorney to replace Spota.

And Sini, who won election as Suffolk DA on Nov. 7, told Newsday he intended to reach out to Cuomo’s office to discuss the possibility of early appointment to the post, rather than waiting until the Jan. 1 swearing-in.

Dani Lever, spokeswoman for Cuomo, said this week that, “Under the law, and consistent with the practice in a variety of cases in the past, in the absence of an elected district attorney, the designated assistant district attorney runs the office until a successor assumes office.”

Even so, Cuomo’s staff is checking to make sure there would be no operational problems in allowing the office to continue to be run by Constant.

Sini has said he wants to take control of the office early “to ensure the wheels of justice operate in an effective way.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the governor’s office is open to discussion.

“It’s our understanding that he’s on vacation and we haven’t discussed this matter with him,” Azzopardi said. “Once he returns we’ll be happy to do so.”

Spota and his aide Christopher McPartland were indicted on charges of taking part in a cover-up of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s 2012 assault of Christopher Loeb, who had been arrested after breaking into Burke’s police vehicle.

Spota and McPartland have pleaded not guilty.

Also, the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn has issued subpoenas to Suffolk’s comptroller about bonuses Spota’s office paid to top employees — including Constant — using asset forfeiture money, according to a county source.

Spota’s office has said the payments were a legal use of forfeiture funds.

Still, public trust in the DA’s office has been eroded.

One of Sini’s top priorities will be to restore public trust in the DA’s office.

The sooner that can start, the better.

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