DA misconduct commission passes Assembly, Senate; DA Rain’s tenure cited as example of need
By JIMMY LAWTON
A bill that would create a disciplinary commission to review complaints of misconduct by prosecutors has passed the state Assembly and Senate.
The legislation, which has support from some St. Lawrence County officials and regional state representatives, would create a commission on prosecutorial conduct to serve as a disciplinary entity designated to review complaints of misconduct by prosecutors.While Mary Rain’s troubled tenure as St. Lawrence County District Attorney isn’t what prompted Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, to put the bill forward, has said it’s a prime example of why such a committee is needed.
In a past interview DeFrancisco said that the committee would be able to confirm or dispel allegations against district attorneys more swiftly than current processes allow.
Assemblywoman Addie Jenne, D-Theresa, also supported the legislation.
“Creating a commission on prosecutorial conduct will bring responsible and transparent oversight to the world of criminal prosecutions. The commission will act as a check on the power of prosecutors in New York through the creation of a system for grievances to be heard, investigated, and dealt with fairly,” she said in a past interview. “I am supporting this legislation because I believe clarifying the process by which prosecutors are held responsible for their conduct in office will ensure New Yorkers will continue to have confidence in our justice system.”
Once signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the commission would enforce the “obligation of prosecutors” to observe acceptable standards of conduct, and establish reasonable accountability for the conduct of prosecutors during the performance of their functions, powers and duties as prosecutors. The oversight committee would be modeled after a similar system put in place to keep judges in check.
DeFrancisco has said prosecutors have always lacked oversight, much like judges did prior to legislation passed in the 1970s.
“They established the opportunity for an independent body to report complaints for judicial conduct. When that came in years and years ago it was like the world was going to end,” he said. “But it was passed and now nobody blinks an eye at it and it works.
DeFrancisco also said in many cases judges who are investigated are exonerated, sometimes action is taken or they are removed, but he says the process works well and at a reasonable pace.
He says a similar commission could help expedite investigations regarding complaints made against prosecutors.
“Prosecutors have extremely broad powers. They decide what cases are going to trial and what ones aren’t. If there is wrongdoing or a question of wrongdoing, the only remedy now is they don’t get reelected,” he said, adding that election cycles “can take years.”
The bill has been opposed by the New York State District Attorneys Association, which says willful prosecutorial misconduct is rare and systems of oversight are already in place.