Spin Cycle

News, views and commentary on Long Island, state and national politics.

With Manhattan lawyer Kenneth Thompson running against incumbent Charles J. Hynes for Brooklyn District Attorney,  it becomes fair to ask how the challenger fared in his one major stint as a prosecutor.

   Thompson, who became prominent two years ago as the attorney for hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, the alleged victim in the sexual assault case against French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, served for five years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, from April 1995 until June 2000. 

  How did he do?  Records made available by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a non-profit group which discloses the fiscal year workload of federal prosecutors and other government officials, show that Thompson had an above average conviction rate for the Brooklyn office, getting convictions in 77 percent of his cases -- a decent rate but not at the top end. The office average from fiscal 1986 through FY 2010 was 68 percent.  Some of the stars in the office got convictions between 80 percent to 93 percent of the time while handling more cases.

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     TRAC records show Thompson handled ,along with the odd racketeering case, a garden variety of drug trafficking, postal fraud and immigration cases.  Some of the defendants in Thompson’s cases, while convicted, tended to draw fewer prison sentences, perhaps a sign that the cases were marginal or that judges didn’t believe prison was justified. About 38 percent of those defendants got no prison sentences; the officer average was 29.7 percent, according to TRAC.

   When Thompson’s defendants got prison terms they tended to be less than the median for the office, except in FY 1999 when the median sentences were 46 months, compared to the office’s median of 24 months, stated TRAC.

     As a new assistant prosecutor , Thompson handled his largest caseload early in his tenure: 36 cases in 1996 and 23 in 1997, after which his completed case load dropped off precipitously, TRAC data showed. By 1999 records show Thompson completed just six prosecutions. Some of that is likely because of his involvement in the infamous Abner Louima  brutality case against several police officers.  Thompson was one of the junior member of the government team which tried the case in 1999.  He gave the government’s opening statement and by all accounts did a memorable job. Thompson’s campaign web site notes that former Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin said that the young prosecutor’s  opening “ will be remembered." He also questioned Louima as a witness.

     “Kenny was good,  competent, professional,” remembered defense attorney Stuart London, who represented officer Thomas Bruder, whose conviction was overturned in the case.

   “But clearly [prosecutor] Alan Vinegrad did the major work,” said London, referring to the one of the government’s top guns in the case.

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  Steven Worth,  defense attorney for officer Charles Schwarz, who eventually pleaded guilty to a single perjury charge, also said Thompson “handled himself professionally at all times and was an asset to the prosecution team.”

     “Ken Thompson is proud of his lifelong commitment to standing up for justice as both a federal prosecutor and a respected attorney in private practice,” the challenger’s campaign spokesman said in a statement.




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