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D.A. Kenneth Thompson discusses wrongful convictions at Criminal Bar meeting

February 20, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
KCCBA President Michael C. Farkas, District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, Chief Assistant District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, immediate past President of the KCCBA Jay Schwitzman, and counsel to the DA Maritza Mejia-Ming. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Criminal Bar Association (KCCBA) hosted Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson at its monthly meeting in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday. The district attorney brought members of his Conviction Review Unit to discuss wrongful convictions in Brooklyn.

“One of the main platforms of my administration is that of one justice,” KCCBA President Michael Farkas said. “I’m seeking to promote closer relationships between all the major stakeholders in the criminal justice system. In this manner we can better our community through collaboration and cooperation.

“D.A. Thompson has been in office for about a year, and I don’t think anybody can debate the significant work that he has done in that time,” Farkas said.

Thompson introduced himself and his staff from the Conviction Review Unit (CRU), which included Ronald Sullivan, a professor at Harvard Law School who heads its criminal justice institute; Mark Hale, ADA since 1983 and chief of the D.A.’s CRU; and Oscar Michelen, who would speak at the meeting alongside the district attorney.

“Wrongful convictions not only destroy the lives of those who are unlawfully convicted and their families, but they also do great damage to the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Thompson said. “If people lose faith in our criminal justice system then what good is it?

“If you have any doubt that people are starting to lose faith, all you have to do is just look around over the last couple of months where we have seen thousands of people marching and protesting across the country,” Thompson continued.

Thompson explained that when he took over the D.A.’s Office, there were more than 100 old murder cases that needed to be reviewed. He added that there were only two prosecutors out of 500 working on those cases and they were not in the same office or even on the same floor.

Thompson said he worked with the City Council and the mayor to establish a “real” CRU with 10 prosecutors and an annual budget of $1.1 million, traveling all over the country to review cases.

“We have to admit — those of us who work in the criminal justice system — that we’re not infallible,” Thompson said. “We make mistakes, and we do it every day. It’s not good enough to admit our mistakes, we have to move to correct miscarriages of justice and do so with deliberate speed.

“We have a moral duty to lead the way in addressing reforms, because if we don’t safeguard the integrity of the criminal justice system, then innocent people will continue to be wrongfully convicted and the guilty will remain among us, committing crimes and terrorizing our communities.”

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