Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota's spokesman Robert Clifford emailed a statement to Newsday regarding an investigation into attorney Robert Macedonio:
Over the past months your investigative reporters, Will Van Sant and Gus Garcia-Roberts, at the direction of their editor, Matthew Doig, have been interviewing judges, attorneys and others involved in the criminal justice system. During these interviews Van Sant and Garcia-Roberts have expressed their view that a sentencing proceeding which occurred five years ago regarding attorney Robert Macedonio was unprecedented in the history of Suffolk County. They even went so far as to tell judges and Mr. Macedonio’s attorney during interviews that some of their questions were based on “rumors” they had heard and that they were looking for confirmation which they did not get. This, in and of itself, speaks volumes about the motives of Van Sant, Garcia-Roberts and Doig, as well as their supervisor Deborah Henley, demonstrating that they are proceeding with reckless disregard for the truth of the article they are writing.
Indeed, it would behoove Newsday to be as thorough in vetting the motives, biases and credibility of those acting as the “sources” of the “rumors”. Rumors are by their very nature stories passed from person to person not proven to be true and with no known source. As a journalistic standard, they are as low as it gets.
On Friday, January 20, 2016 after the close of business, at 6:09 pm, months after the initial interviews, Mr. Garcia-Roberts requested an interview with the District Attorney on the case involving Mr. Macedonio and “related matters” without specifying what they were. Garcia-Roberts gave a deadline of Monday, January 25, 2016 for this interview to occur.
It is clear that Newsday intends to publish an article alleging and implying that the Macedonio matter is “unique and unprecedented” (to use Van Sant’s words to the people he has interviewed) despite the fact that those interviewed have expressed clear and unequivocal opinions to the contrary, and despite the fact that in Suffolk County many defendants both before and after the Macedonio matter have had their felony convictions withdrawn and replaced by misdemeanor and in some cases even violation convictions. Clearly Doig, Van Sant and Garcia-Roberts know this and are choosing to disregard the truth and are acting maliciously. The suggestion that anyone in the District Attorney’s Office did anything improper in this case demonstrates a reckless disregard for the truth.
Robert Macedonio, an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of New York was charged by way of Superior Court Information with the class D felony of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree on December 9, 2008 and thereafter pled guilty to that crime on April 9, 2009 in full satisfaction of the investigation conducted into his criminal conduct. On May 6, 2009 he was sentenced to a conditional discharge for a period of three years. As a consequence of his plea of guilty Mr. Macedonio’s license to practice law was immediately revoked. After a period of more than two years, during which Mr. Macedonio remained alcohol and drug free after completing rehabilitation, his attorney asked the District Attorney to consider allowing Mr. Macedonio to be resentenced to a period of interim probation for a period of one year with continued alcohol and drug monitoring by the Department of Probation. The District Attorney agreed to petition the sentencing court for this relief. The Court granted Macedonio’s application and he was so resentenced on July 26, 2011. In addition to the alcohol and narcotic conditions imposed as a condition of the interim probation the District Attorney specifically told Mr. Macedonio’s counsel that the District Attorney would not in any way participate in his efforts to restore his client’s license to practice law. After Mr. Macedonio’s successful completion of the one year period of interim probation, Mr. Macedonio was permitted to withdraw his plea of guilty to the felony of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree and plead guilty to the misdemeanor of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree. He was sentenced to an unconditional discharge. His license to practice law was restored by the Appellate Division, Second Department sometime thereafter.
Two individuals who were associated with Mr. Macedonio were also arrested as a result of the investigation into Mr. Macedonio. Clyde Ward was charged by way of Superior Court Information with the class B felony of Conspiracy in the Second Degree and the class E felony of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree on March 1, 2011. On that day he pled guilty to the A misdemeanor of Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree and the A misdemeanor of Scheme to Defraud in the Second Degree in full satisfaction of the investigation into his criminal conduct. On April 8, 2011 he was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 9 months in the Suffolk County Jail. Larry Demetrius was also charged by way of Superior Court Information on September 11, 2009 with the class B felony of Conspiracy in the Second Degree and the class C felony of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree in full satisfaction of the investigation into his criminal conduct. On that date he pled guilty as charged to Conspiracy in the Second Degree and was sentenced to time served. He had been in custody since early in 2008. A pending indictment against Demetrius was dismissed in satisfaction of his plea of guilty. It should be noted that both Ward and Demetrius had prior criminal convictions.
In Suffolk County and in each of the 62 counties in New York State what occurred in the Macedonio case occurs every day of the week. This is also true in Federal Court and in many other State courts. This makes the Macedonio matter common, not unique nor unprecedented.
Countless articles in publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, many academic journals and even in Newsday have chronicled the creative ways the justice system deals with drug addicted offenders like Mr. Macedonio to keep them out of prison and in treatment so they can move on to lead productive lives.
To that end legislative efforts to reduce and in some instances remove the stigma of a criminal conviction which prevents defendants from obtaining meaningful employment have also been widely covered by the media, including Newsday.
In Suffolk County there exists a Judicial Diversion Program, Felony Drug Treatment Court, Veteran’s Court, Mental Health Treatment Court and Youth Court. All of these problem-solving treatment courts allow individuals charged with a serious crime to successfully transition back to leading productive lives through various forms of rehabilitation. Their existence is promoted and in some cases mandated by the NYS Office of Court Administration as a matter of good public policy.
During Mr. Spota’s tenure as District Attorney, over 150 defendants have had their felony convictions withdrawn and replaced by misdemeanor convictions. This is so even for individuals who were arrested and convicted by plea to robbery, assault, burglary and serious drug crimes. What happened in the Macedonio case where the court allowed the defendant to withdraw his felony plea with the consent of my office years after Mr. Macedonio entered and successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program, is absolutely no different than the 150 other defendants who have been afforded the same opportunity.
Our partnership with the Courts and Hope House Ministries has resulted in formerly jailed, violent but drug addicted felons pleading guilty, being released from custody and placed under Father Frank Pizzarelli's supervision for years. Upon completion of his program some of these defendants, all of whom faced lengthy prison sentences for their pleas to violent felony offenses, are permitted to withdraw their pleas and replace them with misdemeanor pleas just like Mr. Macedonio. A substantial number go on to complete college, professional and graduate school. Counted among them are lawyers, teachers and CEO's, just like Mr. Macedonio.
In 2012 a defendant who committed a robbery in 1994 when he was 19 and who later went on to earn his bachelors and master’s degrees and was enrolled in a doctoral program was permitted by the court at our urging to withdraw his plea of guilty to a felony and thereafter the People affirmatively dismissed the indictment against him. This was done so he could continue to teach in his home state which had recently passed legislation that would have precluded him from doing so. He had no further interaction with the criminal justice system and his application was supported by members of his community.
Recently, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders. In a letter he sent to each of them the President said his power to grant pardons “embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
In another public policy move that underscores this point just last week Governor Cuomo announced a program to remove the stigma attached to youthful offender adjudications for individuals who had no further contact with the criminal justice system for a period of time.
I daresay were it not for your obvious bias against the District Attorney and his Office you would acknowledge that the actions taken to provide Mr. Macedonio his second chance are exactly what you would expect from a District Attorney who is true to his oath.
I request that this letter be published in its entirety in both the print and online editions of your newspaper. Previously your reporters have promised this but our response has only appeared on line.
As journalists I expect you will follow the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics which require that you take responsibility for determining the accuracy of your work, verify information, remember that speed does not trump the need for accuracy, identify sources and consider their motives, provide access to source material when it is referenced and appropriate and above all else never deliberately distort facts or context. See, Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, “Seek Truth and Report It.”