Madeline Singas became Nassau County's acting district attorney Tuesday after Kathleen Rice resigned as top prosecutor to take her new congressional seat.
"I came from very humble beginnings," Singas, the daughter of Greek immigrants, said after Nassau Administrative Judge Thomas Adams swore her in. "My parents could not speak English. . . . And today I am here to show that the American dream is alive and well in Nassau County in 2015."
If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo takes no action, Singas, who served as Nassau's chief assistant prosecutor, will continue to serve until November, when voters will choose a district attorney for a four-year term.
The governor also still could choose to appoint Singas, or a different lawyer, as district attorney. Cuomo's office hasn't yet said what course he'll take, as he spent Monday and Tuesday at services for his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died last week.
Singas, 48, a Democrat who lives in Manhasset, said she'll "absolutely" run in November.
"I can't comment on our personal conversations," she said, when asked about Cuomo, "but I've heard that I will be either in an acting capacity or the appointed DA for Nassau County. But he obviously has many things on his mind this month."
Singas is from Astoria and graduated from Fordham University School of Law before joining the Queens County district attorney's office, where she rose to domestic violence bureau deputy chief. A wife and a mother of 12-year-old twins, she was hired by Rice in 2006 to lead a new special victims bureau.
Singas has handled high-profile cases, which included a first-degree murder prosecution against Leonardo Valdez-Cruz. In 2010 a jury convicted him in the 2009 stabbing death of his estranged girlfriend, Jo'Anna Bird, a New Cassel woman whom prosecutors said Valdez-Cruz terrorized for months before torturing and killing her. Attorney Dana Grossblatt, who defended Valdez-Cruz and heads Nassau's Criminal Courts Bar Association, said of Singas: "She was an excellent adversary, but she kept it in the courtroom. She and I are friends to this day."
Singas was one of two prosecutors who won the case against Edgar Sanchez, a man found guilty of beating his girlfriend, Elisabeth Parisi, 24, to death in 2005 before dumping her body in Sands Point.
Attorney Brian Carmody, who defended Sanchez, said of Singas: "She's as pleasant as can be and doesn't give an inch."
She also was chief prosecutor on a panel Rice created in 2010 to review the child sex abuse convictions of Jesse Friedman, a former Great Neck man who pleaded guilty in 1988 but since has claimed innocence. In 2013 Rice's office found his conviction justified. But a judge recently granted Friedman an innocence claim hearing.
Singas "was the prime architect of the erroneous and vicious phony reinvestigation of Jesse's innocence claim. It's unlikely that anything is going to change," said Friedman's lawyer, Ronald Kuby of Manhattan.
Singas said her office is "well-prepared" and "confident" about the Friedman hearing.
In the meantime, Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said he'll likely endorse the Democrat he'd like to see succeed Rice late this month or in early February.
"I'm going to be looking to endorse the individual who has the best ability to do the job and the best chances of winning in the fall," Jacobs said.
Of Singas, he added: "She's a very formidable individual and seems fair-minded. She's definitely a top contender for the permanent position."
County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello said he hopes to have a candidate by May. "I've always believed that the most important county position is not the county executive but the district attorney," he said.
Singas had served as chief assistant district attorney since 2011, when Rice promoted her, calling her an "innovative, highly decorated career prosecutor" who had handled some of Nassau's most serious cases involving murder, domestic violence and child abuse.
Singas said Tuesday she had no immediate plans for staff changes for the office, which has a budget of $34.6 million and more than 370 full-time employees.
She cited public corruption, drunken and drugged driving, and offenses that fall under the special victims bureau among issues prosecutors are focusing on.
With Robert Brodsky
About Madeline Singas
Education: Fordham University School of Law
Prior job: Nassau's chief assistant prosecutor
Political party: Democrat
Possible Nassau DA contenders
Candidates who have either expressed interest in running for the seat in November or who have been mentioned by party sources:
Madeline Singas, acting Nassau district attorney
Joseph Conway, attorney and former federal prosecutor
Michael Scotto, attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor
Charles Lavine, state assemblyman
Jon Kaiman, chairman of Nassau's fiscal control board and former Town of North Hempstead supervisor
Kate Murray, Town of Hempstead supervisor
John Venditto, Town of Oyster Bay supervisor
Richard McCord, Glen Cove City Court judge
Edward McCarty, Nassau County Surrogate's Court judge