Madeline Singas sees her years in the courtroom as a fitting prelude to becoming Nassau's acting district attorney, and says no one in the county has her qualifications to serve a full term as top prosecutor.
"This is all I know. I graduated from law school in 1991 and from that moment forward, I have been representing the people of the state of New York," Singas said last week in her first newspaper interview since her swearing-in.
"So to do it at this level . . . is so meaningful to me."
The former chief assistant district attorney automatically took over Jan. 6, after her boss, Kathleen Rice, resigned after getting elected to Congress, representing Nassau's 4th District.
Singas, 48, of Manhasset, has made it clear she believes the post is hers to keep this year -- and that she plans to seek a four-year term in November. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo still could appoint her or someone else for the interim.
Singas calls her new job a natural fit for someone who served as Rice's top deputy since 2011 after heading the office's special victims bureau -- a career that adds up to more than two decades as a prosecutor, first in Queens, then Nassau.
"I know the office," she said. "There's no learning curve."
Campaign finance reports show the Democrat has collected more than $400,000 since December for her run for office, with support coming from unions -- including the AFL-CIO and those representing court officers and electrical workers -- and the Greek-American community.
She speaks proudly of her late parents' humble beginnings in the United States after they emigrated from Greece in the late 1950s without being able to speak English. She said they eventually opened Singas Famous Pizza in Elmhurst, Queens -- the first of a chain of restaurants.
The married mother of 12-year-old twins said her family doesn't own the business anymore, and she never worked there growing up because her father always told her to study instead.
"They were progressive despite being uneducated," Singas said of her parents.
'She's been in the trenches'
Gregory Grizopoulos, a former Nassau prosecutor whose wife works in Singas' office, said he's not surprised the Greek community would get behind Singas. He said lots of fellow members of the Hellenic Lawyers Association recently attended a Singas fundraiser.
"She's well-known because people have had a lot of interactions with her. She's been in the trenches, trying cases," Grizopoulos said.
The Westbury attorney is among some defense bar members who describe Singas as tough but fair.
That list includes Todd Greenberg, a Forest Hills attorney who heads an association of former and present Queens prosecutors. Singas, a Fordham University Law School graduate, rose to become deputy chief of the domestic violence bureau in the Queens district attorney's office before coming to Nassau in 2006.
"She knows how to try a case, yet will be reasonable," Greenberg said.
Last year, he represented Joseph Beer in a high-profile Nassau trial after four teenagers died in a high-speed crash on the Southern State Parkway in 2012. Beer, who smoked marijuana and drove, is serving 5 to 15 years in prison.
Singas -- who says drunken and drugged driving cases are among her priorities as district attorney -- last week announced the indictment on manslaughter charges of a Farmingdale teenager after an alleged May street race crash that killed five of his friends. While the vehicular cases are different, Greenberg said a conviction for Singas' office in a big case could help in an election.
"In a very general sense, any high-profile prosecution that you win helps," he said.
Another case that is sure to attract headlines for Singas' office will be the upcoming innocence claim hearing of Jesse Friedman, who pleaded guilty to child sex abuse in 1988 but now maintains he's not guilty.
She was the chief prosecutor on Rice's panel that reviewed Friedman's conviction before the district attorney's office found it justified. Friedman's attorney, Ronald Kuby of Manhattan, recently dubbed Singas "Rice's hatchet person" in an interview.
When speaking of Friedman, Singas said "conviction integrity for us is of paramount importance" and the panel's reinvestigation of his case had been thorough.
"We're ready to move forward in whichever way the courts deem it necessary," she said.
The acting district attorney also names gun and gang violence, crimes against women, children and the elderly, and public corruption among her priorities. But she hasn't decided whether she'll handle any trials personally.
"I love trying cases . . . but we'll see," she said.
Focus on efficiency
Singas describes her style as that of a collaborative decision-maker. She says she has the same struggles balancing her job and family as other working mothers as she and her husband -- Theo Apostolou, who works in sales -- raise their daughter and son.
The prosecutor said one of the ways she manages is by making time at 3:30 p.m. to call her children.
"Even if I give them five or 10 minutes at that time, for me that's very important," she said.
And while free time is rare, Singas said she just read Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's memoir, is enjoying season four of the TV crime drama "The Wire," and sometimes watches "Downton Abbey" with her daughter.
Singas names her biggest challenge as "ensuring the fairest administration of justice with limited resources."
Garden City attorney Brendan Ahern, a former deputy in the district attorney's District Court bureau, said Singas looked to cut financial waste and find ways to run the office more efficiently as Rice's deputy.
"She asked tough questions of every single one of us to see how things could be improved," he said of young deputies in the office.
And while Singas speaks often of building on Rice's legacy, she isn't yet sure what will distinguish her from her former boss.
"She's a redhead," Singas said with a laugh. "Other than that, I think we'll wait and see."