As The Story Spins: Death Threats Are Not A Positive

As of yesterday, Cy Vance captured the endorsements of all three of New York City’s newspapers, the New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post.  This is no small feat, given their disparate approaches and politics and the strength of his opponents, Leslie Crocker Snyder and Richard Aborn.  I too endorsed Cy, not that my endorsement is likely to put him over the top.

For reasons that have never been entirely clear, I’ve been on Leslie Crocker Snyder’s campaign email list since her last run four years ago.  I receive her campaign promotions, and read the rhetoric.  I’ve generally avoided commenting on it, both because I’m disinclined to support a candidate based upon their being the least objectionable, and because of a position I took some years back when 60 MInutes did a profile on her, and I was her counterpoint in the segment.

But as the campaign heats up to the boiling point, particularly given that Leslie has been denied the endorsement of the City’s newspapers, there is one disturbing claim that demands correction.

For more than 35 years, Leslie has spent her career standing up to the powerful — whether it be the Old Boys network that told her she couldn’t try a felony case because she was a woman (she was the first to do so), or the gangs that took over New York City streets and threatened the life of her family (she put the violent gang leaders in jail and helped make our City safe again).

Leslie has never pandered or surrendered to the establishment, and has always been unwavering in her fight for what is right, no matter the personal cost.
What’s troubling about this, aside from the fact that Leslie was the establishment in every conceivable way from the moment she hit the bench to the moment she left to challenge Morgenthau for DA four years ago, is the claim that her life, and that of her family, was threatened because of her efforts to “make our City safe again.”  That’s not quite the way I remember it.

When Leslie sat as a judge in Manhattan, first as an Acting Supreme and later as a Court of Claims (she was never elected to her own Supreme Court judgeship), cases were funneled to her because she was the most reliable judge on the bench when it came to assuring that the most serious, or most shaky, cases would result in both convictions and extraordinarily harsh sentences.  For this reason, she presided over some particularly nasty drug gang trials.  And, in fairness, these were indeed some very bad, very violent people.

But that’s not why her life was threatened.  Leslie had a bad habit, while wearing the robe, of engaging defendants in a vituperative commentary about their lives, their worthlessness, their evilness, in the course of doing the job one expects of a judge.  It’s not that she imposed harsh sentences.  Other judges imposed harsh sentences.  It’s that she wasn’t satisfied merely imposing sentences, but felt compelled to harangue the defendants, insult them, attack them, emasculate them, in the process.  While imposing a sentence is the job of a judge, using the bench as an opportunity to vent and attack in the process is not.

It was Leslie’s compulsion to make sure that defendants knew what she really thought of them that brought about these threats to her and her family.  When imposing a sentence of 232 years, thus assuring that a defendant would never breath free air again, there isn’t much to be gained by verbally castrating them as well.  But that didn’t stop her.  As long as she had the chance to humiliate a defendant, she did.  And they, being violent, nasty people, didn’t take kindly to it. 

As a result of the threats against her and her family, Leslie was given round the clock police protection, including a car and driver, for protection at a huge cost to the people of New York.  These were cops no longer available on the street, but a full contingent at her beck and call.  They sat inside her courtroom.  They scanned people entering.  They protected Leslie from harm.  All so she could use her bench to harangue and humiliate defendants.

To get a better sense of Leslie’s thoughts about her role as judge, she put them in writing in a book entitled “25 to Life,” a self-serving screed that showed her to be both the avenging angel of the law as well as the savior of New York City.  It’s not to suggest that any judge should be subject to death threats, or that any defendant, no matter what’s said to them, is entitled to threaten the life of a judge.  But if any judge ever begged violent criminals to do so, it was Leslie Crocker Snyder.  To the extent that her life was threatened, she did as much as humanly possible to bring it upon herself.

Lacking the sound discretion and temperament to perform her function as a judge, without giving rise to needless antagonism at the expense of a City is hardly an indication of her strength and fortitude in the face of criminal evil.  It was a clear demonstration, however, of the perversion of power and the inability to control the vitriol that flowed.  As a judge, Leslie went not merely too far, but into places where no judge has any business being.  What does that say about her exercise of discretion should she wield the power of District Attorney?