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After the Judge

May 13, 2019

Judge Richard Brown died last week with his boots on, so to speak. He’d hoped to resign on June 1, the 28th anniversary of his appointment as Queens District Attorney. Instead he died last week from Parkinson’s, a disease that had afflicted him for many years, although he rarely missed a day [or a night] at work.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialBrown will be remembered as the city’s last hard-right prosecutor — and one of the few honorable DAs in a borough traditionally held by Democratic party hacks — or worse. He succeeded John Santucci, who presided from a rigged up telephone line at his home in Florida and who resigned in the midst of his term following the disclosure in NY Newsday that he had attended a 14-hour closed door lunch at the Altadonna restaurant with an “associate” of the Gambino crime family.

Brown is succeeded by his longtime chief assistant Jack Ryan, who will effectively hold the position until next month’s primary when the electorate — and not Democratic party leaders — will get a chance to choose its first district attorney in about 50 years. Like Brown, Ryan is an old school guy. Back in the day as assistant to Attorney General Robert Abrams, he was tasked with investigating Al Sharpton’s Tawana Brawley caper, in which the black teenager claimed she had been raped by a group of white men, Ku Klux Klanners, no less. Ryan’s damning report concluded that Brawley — as well as Sharpton and her two lawyers — had made it all up.

Ryan has remained an old school guy, who believes in prosecuting minor crimes such as fare-beaters and marijuana smokers, policies that have gone out of fashion as the city zeitgeist, or political mood, has shifted to the left, and district attorneys appear to be as interested in solving society’s ills as in prosecuting. Dare we speak the formerly pejorative phrase, used by Bill Bratton and Rudy Giuliani in the bad old days, social work?

The media’s view of crime and the police has also shifted. Back in the day when murders topped 2,000 annualy, Bratton and even Giuliani were regarded as saviors for their zero tolerance policies

With crime now at record lows, those same policies are criticized as having destroyed black families by sending many black men to prison for minor offenses.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittThe city’s new mood has turned the police into “enemies of the people,” as the saying goes. While the city focuses on this week’s departmental trial of Daniel Pantaleo, whose supposed chokehold caused the death of Eric Garner, a largely unreported criminal trial of a police captain is occurring the Bronx.

Naoki Yaguchi is accused of official misconduct for allowing hours to pass before ordering a breathalyzer test for a supposedly drunken detective involved in an off-duty car accident. Why this case warrants a criminal trial as opposed to an administrative one in the police trial room is unclear. But should Yaguchi be found guilty, he will lose his pension and his police career — penalties as severe as those for Pantaleo if he is found guilty of causing Garner’s death.

Captains’ Endowment president Roy Richter says Bronx DA Darcel Clark told him she wants to send a message to the police department by setting an example. Her spokeswoman Patrice O’Shaughnessy did not return a call over the weekend.

Richter says he’s also discussed the Yaguchi case with Commissioner Jim O’Neill, who told him that a criminal trial was unwarranted and that the matter was more appropriately handled in the police trial room as an administrative matter.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialUnder Brown, Yaguchi’s case would never have been prosecuted, says a top former assistant. Brown never used the criminal justice system to prosecute cops or to send messages to the NYPD.

But the political landscape in Queens is changing. The DA primary scheduled for June features a host of liberal to radical candidates. The two best known, borough president Melinda Katz and City Councilmember Rory Lancman, have no law enforcement experience. Greg Lasak, a former hardline prosecutor who gave up his judgeship to run, is viewed as a dark horse.

Alas, the most qualified candidate is not running. He is George Grasso, a longtime Queens resident and a former Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters for the police department who has become a compassionate Bronx judge. With the job of district attorney changing, he can perhaps be more effective from the bench.

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