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KCCBA discusses how to improve accountability within criminal justice system

September 21, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: Timothy Pearson, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Kings County Criminal Bar Association President Michael Farkas and Ron Kuby discussed how to improve accountability within the criminal justice system at the latest CLE seminar. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Criminal Bar Association hosted a Continuing Legal Education seminar called, “Accountability in the Criminal Justice System,” on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday with civil rights attorney Ron Kuby and Timothy Pearson, the president of NOBLE New York (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives).

“Yes, the topic of wrongful convictions is being revisited again,” said KCCBA President Michael Farkas. “You may recall that in January we had the Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson here to discuss his Conviction Integrity Unit, the most staffed and admired of its kind in the country. That program is geared more toward the end result, addressing and remedying the wrongful convictions.

“This problem is so important to our practice, to society and is so multifaceted that we believe, especially now in the enlightenment era of wrongful convictions, that we discuss it from other angles and this discussion focuses more on accountability,” he continued.

Kuby, a radio and television personality who described himself as, “a civil rights lawyer with 32 years’ experience suing cops” and Pearson, a 32-year veteran of the NYPD, offered opposing viewpoints, but both admitted that the system could do a lot to improve accountability.

“Genuine accountability usually is like, 15-to-life,” Kuby said. “The criminal justice system, as a whole, is a system where absolutely no one is accountable for their wrongdoing except for the defendant. And the defendant is either fully accountable for their wrongdoing if they go to trial and get unlucky or is only partially accountable if he or she chooses to enter a plea of guilty, but nobody else, when things go south, are held responsible.”

Pearson, whose organization aspires to serve as the conscience of law enforcement, placed some of the blame for lack of accountability on the defense attorneys themselves.

“Many of the defendants say my defense attorney is in with the prosecutor because (defense attorneys) go along with it,” Pearson said. You know it’s BS, you know what’s going on.”

“You say, ‘I have this case, I’m going to get it disposed of, I’m going to get an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal), something to push it through the system,” Pearson continued. “Another one bites the dust, let’s go on. And it goes on every day and nobody really challenges it.”

Despite the opposing viewpoints, both agreed that change is necessary and that the best, and potentially quickest way to bring about change is to do so is by using technology, including videotaped confessions, from start to finish, and police body cameras. Kuby was also strongly in favor of double-blind police lineups.

“When it comes to technology — videotaping confessions, the process and police lineups, we think those are good initiatives, particularly in the city of New York, to try to get closer to the truth as to what has transpired in any kind of arrest situation,” Pearson said.

When it comes to accountability, some topics during the discussion became contentious, but Farkas said that it is important for the criminal bar to, “present all perspectives to best serve the legal community.” He added that some people will see certain perspectives can be seen as extreme, but that it is important for all to be discussed.

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