Schneiderman Fills The Gap

After the grand jury fiasco orchestrated by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan that returned “no true bill” for the murder of Eric Garner, there were cries for the return of a special prosecutor to handle cop killings. The rationale was straightforward, that local prosecutors were too close to police, relied upon police, and therefore couldn’t be trusted to prosecute cops.

That explanation makes sense, though it wasn’t necessarily the case. There were, are, prosecutors willing to do their job, even if it meant indicting cops.  But then, others have failed, miserably, deliberately, disgracefully, to put all their empty rhetoric about crime and punishment to the test when it’s one of their beloved police officers on the wrong end of a killing.  And it’s happened too often.

So Governor Andy Cuomo felt the need to do something.  From the AP:

With lawmakers unable to agree on an approach as the legislative session ended, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday he’d use executive power to appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for a year as special prosecutor for police killings.

Schneiderman sits in the chair that was warmed by Cuomo’s butt before him, and Eliot Spitzer before Cuomo.  Both used it to jettison themselves to glory in their quests to be governor, and turned it into an effective bully pulpit despite the fact that the AG job wasn’t really what they tried to make it out to be.

The attorney general isn’t really a criminal prosecutor, but the state’s “chief legal counsel.”  While there are some prosecutorial functions, such as Medicaid fraud and charity oversight, it’s got no statewide general criminal authority. That’s what district attorneys are for, though you wouldn’t know if from the way Spitzer used the office.

What the means is that Schneiderman doesn’t have the connection to cops that a real prosecutor would have, not being charged with handling the prosecution of crime.  But it also means that Schneiderman’s office doesn’t have the staff, the resources or the experience to prosecute cops. They mostly push paper, and as anyone who has had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of an AG investigation knows, they aren’t the baddest prosecutors in town, and Cuomo knows it.

“I don’t believe this is the perfect alternative, but I believe it is the best alternative at this time,” said Cuomo, adding that he’d keep working toward legislation next year.

There’s nothing like a show of support by the guy who just appointed you to do a job, calling you not the “perfect alternative.”  Maybe they can put that on the AG’s letterhead.

Some advocates who called for reform are praising the move. But district attorneys say it usurps a role they believe they play fairly and honorably, and relatives of people killed in New York police encounters say the temporary measure doesn’t go far enough.

The various sides lay out according to their enlightened self-interest and press releases, as expected.  But then, why hasn’t the legislature come up with an answer, rather than the less-than-perfect-alternative, given the extreme interest and concern about the problem with prosecuting cops?

On the one hand, the New York Legislature struggles to reach agreement on what day of the week it is.  To call it dysfunctional is to insult dysfunction. On the other, it’s struggling under a peculiar leadership gap, with former majority leader of the Assembly, Shelly Silver, and former president of the Senate, Dean Skelos, both under indictment by Southern District of New York United States Attorney, Preet Bharara.

And (shhh, don’t tell anyone) word is Andy Cuomo is soon to join them following his dismantling of the Moreland Commission ten minutes after it started investigating Cuomo’s financial backers.

But there is a bigger, less political, reason why it’s not easy to address the special prosecutor problem in New York, and that’s due to the experience with Maurice Nadjari, who started out gangbusters after being appointed by Governor Hugh Carey to go after official corruption, but who ultimately went rogue, untouchable with power.

Nadjari destroyed a lot of lives, including a good number of judges, by leaking allegations of corruption to the media before indictment, then having his cases fall apart and get overturned.  But he knew how to inflict damage, and he used his power mercilessly.

The lesson, that power corrupts, was made abundantly clear by the office of special prosecutor, even if (as some would argue) Nadjari’s downfall wasn’t due to his abuse of power, but the fear of politicians and judges that he would investigate them next and bring their sweet deal to a crashing end.  New York pols, never the bravest or toughest stand up guys in the first place, certainly don’t want to create another Nadjari.

Which brings us back to Schneiderman.  Can he do the job?  Will he do the job? Will he even have the opportunity to do the job?  Hopefully, we won’t find out, as that will mean there is another needlessly dead body on the street at the hands of New York’s Finest.

8 thoughts on “Schneiderman Fills The Gap

  1. John Barleycorn

    You do know that your last paragraph could be worked into the script of a lawyer chatting with his therapist about the probability
    of the existence of hell.

    I must say this was your best opening paragraph in months and it had potential but now I am starting to reconsider whether or not weaving civics lessons into porn scripts will be enough to get the job done.

    If “This blah _______, blah reform will strike the perfect balance between X and Y and move us forward” had been included in “I don’t believe this is the perfect alternative, but I believe it is the best alternative at this time” quote I might have had to consider taking The Grand Jury Studios to Romania.

    Perhaps I should stop waiting for the mother of all grand jury posts and get busy with a new start up. I am beginning to think that the fantasy world creation segment of the gaming industry might be where it’s at for civic lessons moving forward.

    Now I just need to figure out how to administratively staff this new venture with some Canadian children’s book illustrators. Then if I get lucky and am able to recruit a few wanna be science fiction writers making a living in porn, I might have enough to float the idea with an up and coming Mitt Romney type for the initial financing.

          1. John Barleycorn

            My entrepreneurial spirit used to only be limited by my selfish desire to avoid or minimize incarceration depending on any current parole conditions or bail restrictions.

            However, after I turned fifty I realized that these selfish concerns of mine only limited the potential generosity of my philancivicthropic goals and the ability of CDL’s to feed their children meat a few times a week, so there are no limits these days as long as I can take a twenty minute nap after lunch most days.

            P.S. Pro Tip:

            Civil Servant intramural sports sponsorships are excellent investment hedges, as this of post of yours today indirectly points out, and the PR can’t be beat especially if your city still allows cops to drink beer in city parks even when they are dressed in uniforms that don’t have badges. However, I would not recommend sponsoring softball teams in the open city law enforcement league if the team is comprised of more than two assistant district attorneys.

            All to often the DA Boss insists that at least a few dozen of his or her minions are sprinkled around the league and forces them to play as a sort of enhanced team building exercise which can create wired hostilities with the sponsors unless you go all the way and front the assistant district attorneys the cash to pick up their entire teams bar tab, without their boss knowing its the sponsor not them paying the tab, after the games. But even then it can get complicated.

            P.S.S. David, Fubar continues to ignored my attempts to meet up at The Oaks in Oakland to play some 2-3-5 no-limit holdum and discuss why his day job is interfering with global philancivicthropic idealism but if you put up some euros before Greece throws their next party I think we might be able to get him to the table.

            Not to put any pressure on you but if you don’t come up with the cash fast I am afraid I will only have one good chance in the next eight months or so to get him to give up his day job.

            Rumor has it he might be attending at least one of the “warm up” Grateful Dead 50th anniversary shows this weekend at Levi Stadium before Chicago fleeces every last hippie on the planet over the 4th of July.

            It these shows were at the Shoreline I could nab him without help before he made it into the amphitheater. But no!?!!?? So, I had to dig deep and hire some agents from the neofeminists Oakland and San Jose chapters, who freelance to fund their underground cells, and they have agreed to kidnap him wile in cotton dress disguise but I am not sure he will be fooled as the neofeminists refuse to give up their combat boots and wear sandals for any price.

  2. John Barleycorn

    Three hours to show time no sighting of Fubar yet in the Great American parking lot.

    1. John Barneycorn

      There are reports that there may have been a brief sighting during Uncle John’s Band during the first set but he escaped and wasn’t to be sighted again for the rest of the show….

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