In the wake of Thomas Spota's downfall for abusing the power of the Suffolk County district attorney's office, our endorsement of Timothy D. Sini four years ago was conditioned on his ability to rebuild public trust:
End the political enemies lists and move past the clubby culture among judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors. Follow the campaign contributions to see whether public officials are being bought. Put in place measures to ensure that criminal cases are honorably and expeditiously pressed in court. Work cooperatively with federal partners to ensure that drug traffickers and gang members are aggressively prosecuted while giving low-level offenders with mental health and addiction struggles an opportunity to mend their lives.
Sini's getting there. He's earned another term. While never short a news release about his work, the Democrat from Babylon is on the right track on hiring a new team, utilizing diversion programs to get repeat offenders services that may put them on a better life path, focusing on human trafficking, and making the prosecution of environmental offenses a high priority. In 2019, the murder conviction of Keith Bush, who had served 33 years behind bars claiming all the while that he was wronged, was vacated after Sini's office was able to document serious problems with the evidence in the case and misconduct by the police, evidence ignored by his predecessors. He must keep up these reviews. And Sini, 41, was among the first and most consistent prosecutors in warning Albany lawmakers about some glaring mistakes they were making in an effort to change bail and pretrial proceedings.
Yet, we do have concerns. Sini relies too much on the detective investigators squad, where wiretaps can go up as fast as holiday decorations and overtime is clocked like crazy. Without significant oversight of this crew, the office could run amok again. Chief investigator John Barry ran into some problems in a union corruption case that Sini turned over to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that required them to disclose to the defense counsel Barry's family relationship with an official of a rival union. Until recently, Sini's office continued plea negotiations and failed to indict county legislator William Spencer, a Democrat and physician, for supplying prostitutes with opioids in return for sex. That allowed Spencer to stay in the job.
Republican Raymond A. Tierney, 55, of Holtsville, worked in the Suffolk DA's office for six years before joining the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District in 2008. His experience is considerable. He put Ed Walsh, the former head of the Suffolk County Conservative Party, in prison for cheating on his sheriff's department time, and convicted multiple members of the MS-13 gang for violent crimes and murders. He understands how to best work with other law enforcement agencies on complex investigations.
However, he said he would not continue Sini's new public integrity bureau which reviews claims of innocence and prosecutorial misconduct in prior cases. Tierney said he would respond to such claims when a defendant files an appeal rather than considering it an obligation of the DA's office to initiate its own review. That is misguided. Most troubling, however, is how his run for this office came about. Tierney left the Justice Department in 2019 to take a top job in the Brooklyn district attorney's office, but it was not a job he could hold, ethically or practically, while running for the Suffolk post. Waiting for him was a plum attorney's job at Suffolk OTB that wouldn't materialize unless the party bosses, in this case the GOP's Jessie Garcia and Democrat Rich Schaffer, allowed it to happen.
Tierney vows that he will not let politics creep into his DA's office but we are not convinced that he knows the reach of those tentacles.
Newsday endorses Sini.
ENDORSEMENTS ARE DETERMINED solely by the Newsday editorial board, a team of opinion journalists focused on issues of public policy and governance. Newsday’s news division has no role in this process.