Nassau County’s DWI “Wall of Shame” Confusion

Tom Suozzi, Nassau County’s Executive, must have thought this was a great idea, given the outcry that invariably followed the car crashes and deaths involving a drunk driver.  People complained that “something must be done.”  So what he did was create the “Wall of Shame.”  It was a wall with the photograph and identity of each person arrested for drunk driving.  Not convicted, but arrested.  Note the name.  It’s purpose is to shame those accused of DWI.

You would think that Tom would have somebody whispering in his ear that putting up photos of people not yet convicted had its issues, but the word around Nassau County is that Tom does not care to hear from people who disagree with him.  If Tom thinks it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea.

Alexandra Bursac, however, didn’t think it was a good idea.  Neither did her lawyer, Brian Griffin.  Together, they decided to do something about it.  Bursac was arrested for DWI, with the officer claiming she was .01 over the line.  She disagreed, and pleaded not guilty.  But there she was, picture and all, on the Wall of Shame.

Interestingly, the Wall of Shame wasn’t a mere physical wall, but a virtual wall.  It was put on the internet for all to see.  Worse still, once on the internet, it was there in virtual perpetuity, shaming Bursac for her arrest forever and ever, even if she prevailed against the charges. 

Adding irony to the mix, Newsday, which was editorially critical of the Wall to shame people who were “innocent until proven guilty” was the primary source of the Wall of Shame’s exposure.  Not only did Newsday put the Wall on its website, but it had links to the Wall of Shame all over the place.  And refused to take it down, despite the criticism of shaming the innocent.

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice William LaMarca agreed with Bursac.

[P]osting Alexandra Bursac’s photo punishes her in a way not authorized by the law. And because of the permanence of the Internet, it imposes an inappropriate penalty by exposing her to “limitless and eternal notoriety.”

Now comes the interesting part.  The County’s knee-jerk reaction to the decision was exactly what one would expect.

County Attorney Lorna Goodman said her office will not remove Bursac’s name and photo, or anyone else’s, from the “Wall of Shame.” She said the county will appeal the decision, which will automatically put the judge’s order to remove the name and photo on hold.

“We are disappointed at the decision of the judge,” Goodman said. “The decision appears to be based on a novel theory that publication on the Internet is different from traditional publication, a theory for which he cites no support. The decision ignores the reality of the digital age.”

We know this because this was reported in a mid-day article (this is a cached link) by Newsday yesterday.  By this morning, the same Newsday article, with the same link, told a very different story.

County Executive Thomas Suozzi insisted that the Wall of Shame has deterred people from driving drunk, and he vowed to appeal State Supreme Court Justice William LaMarca’s decision. But in the meantime, he said he feels it is wise to remove the names to protect the county from a torrent of lawsuits.

“The decision [to post people’s names before they were convicted] was made based upon the information we had at the time,” he said. “But we think this is a prudent course of action.”

Prudent indeed.

Notwithstanding Suozzi’s decision to take down the Wall of Shame, Newsday wasn’t to be cowed, whether by reason or the order of a judge. has been posting the names and photos from the Wall of Shame since the county began releasing them after Memorial Day weekend. “Our plan is to continue to mirror the county’s presentation of what officials label the ‘Wall of Shame,’ said Newsday Editor John Mancini. “As we have in the past, we will post photos of people charged with a crime that are provided to us by authorities on”

Freedom of the press is a fine thing, an important thing, to the perpetuation of democracy.  But there is nothing in the First Amendment that forbids the use of wisdom.  Shaming the innocent is bad when Nassau County does it.  It’s bad when Newsday does it.   Tom Suozzi has wised up.  Maybe Newsday should give it a second thought as well.

11 thoughts on “Nassau County’s DWI “Wall of Shame” Confusion

  1. tess kendall

    Profligate waste of government resources: It seems typical of government entities to waste taxpayer money in support of mis-guided projects. Is there any mechanism by which citizens can discourage such wanton waste?

  2. SHG

    While it certainly seems misguided, I can’t see how it’s a waste of resources.  There is no real cost attributable to the Wall.  But if you don’t care for it, there is always a way for citizens to discourage government action: Vote.

  3. Steve W

    This is so typical of Long Island politics, having the most currupt Police Departments/Government Officials in the country. They violate people civil rights daily and law enforcement think they are above the law. How come you don’t see any police officers getting arrested for this crime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen police officers drinking(heavy)at different locations, getting pulled over, showing there ID and being let go. The double standards of Long Island government officials are outrageous. There needs to be an FBI investigation in every area of government, starting with law enforcement officials. As far as newsday goes and Tom Suozzi, well I guess you can see for yourself, the arrogance of these two.

  4. SHG

    You were doing pretty well until you tried to jump the chasm from cops getting courtesy to Suozzi having something to do with it.  If Suozzi is bad, and he’s certainly got his issues, he’s a piker compared to the good old says of Gulotta, Mondello and the king, Joe Margiotta.  So on the scale of arrogance and corruption, we’re now a 3 compared to a 10 before Suozzi. 

    And cops drank before him, drink with him, and will drink after him, and no other cop will do anything about it. Because that’s what cops do.

  5. kerrr murphy

    I am interested in finding out if I have any recourse against Nassau County. My son, who was 17 at the time of his arrest for driving under the influence of marijuana, was included on the wall of shame. Number one, he is a minor, number two, the county lumped him in with DWI arrests. Dont minors have rights in this situation?

  6. SHG

    The way to find out is to seek a consultation with an attorney.  There are many great attorneys in Nassau County who can help you, and you have good reason to contact one about your son.

  7. SHG

    Nah, it was just me being snarky with one of those “let me google that for you” searches since he took the time to ask without taking the time to look for himself if he was that interested.

  8. Andrew

    Sorry for being so dense today. Part of me thought you might be doing that. On the other hand, I saw that the appeal was withdrawn, so I thought you might actually have written about it again, and your blog’s search seemed not to be working. is a great search engine though. I use it to answer all manner of tech questions people ask me.

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