Kate Murray, the Republican candidate for Nassau district attorney, Tuesday criticized her Democratic opponent, acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, for what she called Singas' "refusal to fight" diversion sentencing for drug dealers.
Joined by county police union leaders, Murray highlighted the controversy in New York City over a judge's diversion into a drug-treatment program of the man accused of fatally shooting NYPD Officer Randolph Holder last week.
Murray noted that New York City prosecutors had objected to diverting the suspect in the Holder case, but said Singas' staff does not do so enough in Nassau. Singas said recently that "diversion in this state is controlled by judges. It doesn't matter if we scream and jump until we're blue in the face."
Citing state law that allows prosecutors to request hearings to protest diversion decisions, Murray said that Singas was wrongly characterizing her office as having no say.
"She is absolutely abdicating that privilege on behalf of the residents of Nassau County to offer an opinion," Murray said.
Singas said Murray "has a fundamental misunderstanding of what diversion is because [she] is not a prosecutor."
Courts can assign defendants to diversion programs in lieu of prison time, regardless of prosecutors' objections. The treatment is meant for nonviolent defendants with addictions, including those accused of crimes unrelated to drugs, yet critics say dealers can game the system.
Singas said prosecutors often object on the record to a diversion recommendation -- and have already presented evidence to a judge -- before a hearing can even be requested.
That hearing, Singas said, is held in front of the same judge who has already indicated support for diversion sentencing.
"We object, obviously, when it's appropriate, and we have objected, but the ultimate authority . . . is the judge," she said.
Nassau defendants have been granted diversion 104 times this year, with prosecutors objecting 12 times, said district attorney spokesman Shams Tarek. Of 506 felony drug dispositions this year, the district attorney's office said, 40 were diverted and dismissed.
Prosecutors object every time they "have evidence a defendant is a dealer for profit," Tarek said.
With Laura Figueroa