Thursday, 21 November 2013 00:00
When Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice was first elected, I sued her three times in pro bono publico actions which I did not expect to win. I lost the three cases but my goal was to heighten the awareness of Ms. Rice and the public’s about new policies which she adopted which I believed were wrong. In the first action I challenged her new plea policies in D.W.I. cases which had been in use for 30 years and had worked. In the second action I sued because she had not complied with our County Charter and local laws in firing experienced prosecutors and hiring some new ones from outside the County. In my third action I sued to establish the independence of grand juries outside of her office.
Since that election Ms. Rice has made a number of blunders including her ill-fated Wall of Shame and opposing discovery and FOIL requests which have led to, in some cases, wrongful convictions. In one case People v. John Daly, 57 A.D.3d 914 (2d Dept., 2008) her office failed to disclose twelve statements which when they were belatedly disclosed following a successful FOIL application and appeal led to the dismissal of robbery charges against my client and his sentence was reduced from 35 years to 12.5 years. Notwithstanding these ethical improprieties and the fact that she appears to be doing the same thing once again in the Friedman case, Grievance Committees and the Courts rarely punish prosecutors.
This time though after two terms in office I am finding a more mature, sensitive and competent Ms. Rice. What I have noticed is an awareness on her part reflected in policies that acknowledge and make better use of drug and mental health courts. The D-TAP (Drug Treatment Alternative Program) which I first started pushing in Nassau in 1991, following the program first adopted in Brooklyn, took 10 years to implement here. The program has been a great success here and throughout the State. Ms. Rice can take credit for that as can Judge Frank Gulotta who presides over that program. The program gives addicts a new lease on life. It gives people accused of crime the hope too often lacking in the justice system.
These programs give people a new lease on life following treatment. They reduce our jail population and costs to taxpayers. They also curtail recidivism. Ms. Rice is moving in the right direction and therefore deserves our support.
In contrast her opponent, Howard Sturim, a former prosecutor and nice man but has cranked out the usual, unthinking tough law enforcement stance in criticizing Rice for lenient plea policies. That is hardly the case. In fact Ms. Rice can be rightfully criticized for being too rigid in some plea policies particularly in second offense D.W.I. cases where health issues have intervened and defendants are unfit for jail and where programs there cannot meet the needs and provide no deterrent affect.
Ms. Rice may have higher ambitions and why not, particularly if she continues to mature and is open to the best ideas that will create change for the betterment of society. While I have never met Ms. Rice and I am not a member of her political party, she won my vote. Also, with two daughters and a wife to answer to, I am grateful to have a woman’s perspective in our justice system.
Thomas F. Liotti
Westbury Village Justice