Tim Sini must now deliver on his fundamental promise to restore integrity to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
After Sini took the oath of office Tuesday, he pledged to restore dignity to an office disgraced by his predecessor, Thomas Spota. Sini dramatically apologized to the prosecutors and employees for Spota’s failures, and said he will restore the reputation of the office “to do the right thing in each and every case.” He has a tough job.
But soon Sini will have to go beyond telling us how bad things were and get specific on just how he will make things better.
Sini told young prosecutors that their jobs are about more than winning, that they must seek the truth and play by the rules. Dozens of cases, including murder charges, have been dismissed over the years because of inexcusable ethical violations by Spota’s prosecutors — primarily for not following the law on disclosing evidence to defense attorneys. Sini told prosecutors that the office would now have a culture “where we view our legal and ethical obligations as a way of life and not as burdens . . . ”
Demanding professionalism from prosecutors is the right place to start and that can be achieved through better training, better role models and a better system for tracking the progress of cases and holding supervisors accountable for errors.
Restoring professionalism also demands scrubbing politics from an office left in shambles by Spota, whose October indictment on federal charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice was the denouement of the era of corruption former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke wreaked on Suffolk law enforcement. Spota is accused of trying to cover up Burke’s abuse of power in the police department. As former police commissioner after Burke’s departure, Sini must make sure to separate from that post and prosecute police officers who violate the law.
Sini, however, said little about how he would eliminate the political interference that enabled Burke’s racket of using the office to help friends and wound political enemies. Sini must demand that his prosecutors not be involved in any political activity, and he must keep his office beyond the reach of political and elected leaders. He must make sure anyone involved with Burke is shown the door.
Hiring William Ferris as his chief assistant gives Sini someone with institutional knowledge. Ferris worked for more than two decades for James Catterson, Spota’s predecessor, but Ferris also sought the GOP nomination for district attorney this year. He even had a website called Sinilied.com. Then he dropped out of the race at a very opportune time in July to endorse Sini, a Democrat, against GOP front-runner Ray Perini. The hire of Ferris has the appearance of a deal and that stinks up the clean-slate spin. Sini also promised to hire top federal prosecutors to bring a new level of expertise to the office. So far, those prosecutors are hard to find in the flow chart.
Suffolk has a opioid epidemic that must be addressed and seamless cooperation with the federal government to crack down on violent gangs such as MS-13 is needed. Apologizing for Spota was a dramatic start, but now Sini will have to prove his case that professionalism rules his office.