Bill proposes greater accountability for New York prosecutors who break the law

Prosecutors

Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. a katz / Shutterstock.com

In 2013, ProPublica published a series of reports finding that New York prosecutors are almost never punished for misconduct that can land innocent people in prison or let the guilty go free.

That could change in the coming days.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has a bill before him that would create a commission to bring a greater measure of accountability to prosecutors who withhold evidence, suborn perjury or commit other ethical violations that undermine justice. It would be the first of its kind in the country and conceivably create a model for other states to follow.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and Assembly in June, authorizes the governor, the Legislature and the state’s chief judge to pick 11 people to investigate allegations of misconduct. The panel, when it sees fit, could issue warnings and recommend sanctions, or even firings, to the governor.

Now, prosecutors are overseen like any other lawyer — by disciplinary committees attached to the state’s appellate courts. But ProPublica’s 2013 analysis found that even when convictions are thrown out as a result of harmful misconduct on the part of prosecutors, the appellate courts often fail to refer them to disciplinary committees.

In the two dozen instances in which judges explicitly concluded that New York City prosecutors had committed misconduct, only one prosecutor was disciplined. That prosecutor flouted the law in three separate cases. Other prosecutors went on to earn promotions and get raises.

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Meanwhile, New York City and state taxpayers have had to dole out tens of millions of dollars in settlements for wrongfully convicted people who went on to successfully sue.

The bill’s backers say that the commission will help remedy the situation both by punishing prosecutors who deserve it and forcing them to reconsider tactics that lead to such harm.

But the bill has met staunch opposition from the district attorneys themselves who wield significant power in Albany.

In a statement, the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York said that existing systems should be strengthened, and that the commission will have unchecked, duplicative powers that will interfere with a prosecutor’s ability to fully enforce the law.

Cuomo has until Monday to veto or approve the bill.

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Author: Edward Lott

Edward Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A. is president and managing partner of Allentown-based ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing, Inc., a local search and digital marketing agency that offers clients lead generation, local seo and Google Maps Domination. Ed has been a digital entrepreneur since 1994, having discovered very early the opportunities the Internet offered. After having spent over two decades helping attorneys grow their practice, Ed joined the staff of ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing as President and Managing Partner, where he is expanding the agency’s cutting-edge services to the legal market. A true marketing futurist, Ed's vast experience working directly with attorneys has given him a unique perspective on law firm marketing not found in many other digital marketing agencies. Ed has reshaped the offerings of ForLawFirmsOnly to focus on growing law firms through a holistic approach to digital marketing evident in the reformulated lead generation processes now in place. Want to learn more about ForLawFirmsOnly Marketing, their lead generation programs, or just talk to Ed about his visions for helping law firms grow? Call him at 855-943-8736.

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