Brooklyn Boro

Senior Assistant DA Teresa Fabi to retire after more than three decades of service to Brooklyn

May 27, 2016 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Senior Assistant District Attorney for Kings County Teresa Fabi. Photo courtesy of Teresa Fabi
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Senior Assistant District Attorney for Kings County Teresa Fabi has certainly led an interesting life. During her illustrious career, she has served under four different district attorneys, and watched some of Brooklyn’s communities transform from dangerous crime-ridden neighborhoods to the highly desired and sought-after places they are today. And while she is now officially retiring, it’s safe to say that Fabi had a lot to do with helping to precipitate some of these changes, and all for the better.

Originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, she was the third of six children born to Italian-American parents. Her father was a cardiologist and wanted her to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, Fabi moved to Philadelphia where she became an administrative assistant to a research neurologist, while still planning to pursue a career in medicine.  But in 1982, she enrolled in Temple University School of Law, and between 1983 and 1984 she interned at the office of then-District Attorney Ed Rendell in Philadelphia.  She admits that prior to that, she had no idea what a DA did, but she was immediately smitten with the job.

Upon receiving her Juris Doctor degree from Temple, Fabi was offered a position in the Brooklyn DA’s Office.  She made the move to Brooklyn in 1985, passed the New York Bar Exam and began her career in August of that year.  She was one of 65 ADA’s in the Class of ’85 hired by then-Kings County DA Elizabeth Holtzman.  

Fabi told the Brooklyn Eagle that, “It was during the crack epidemic, and Brooklyn was a very different place than it is now.” She remembers “being driven out to crime scenes by detectives to areas where we were essentially told that we should duck down in the back seat of the patrol car. The very same places that have now experienced incredible gentrification — Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and Bushwick — looked very different in those years.”

She served as a deputy chief in the Domestic Violence Bureau of the Kings County District DA’s (KCDA) Office. She spent a year prosecuting misdemeanor cases in the Criminal Court Bureau before moving on to the Investigations Bureau, where she assisted in the investigation of high-profile violent crimes. In 1987, Fabi was assigned to the Narcotics Trial Bureau, where she spent three years as a senior trial attorney prosecuting felony narcotics cases.

She went on to serve as deputy and then bureau chief of the Grand Jury from 1990 to 1997.  During her tenure there she supervised the indictments of tens of thousands of cases.  In 1998, Fabi was promoted to bureau chief of Trial Zone Green in the office’s Trial Division, where she served from 1998 to 2000.

In 2000, Fabi was transferred to the Crime Prevention Division. There, her focus on the issue of incarcerated mothers and the effects of that incarceration on their children led to the creation of Drew House in 2008, an alternative to incarceration for female felony offenders with children.

Fabi has lived in the same building in Brooklyn, just a short walk from her office, since she moved here in 1985.  Her two children, Elizabeth and Robert, both attended Packer Collegiate, and her life for the past 31 years has been centered around her neighborhood.

The Eagle had the opportunity to ask DA Fabi some questions about what she’s done and accomplished in the past three decades and what her plans are for the future.

Brooklyn Eagle: What intrigued you enough about the district attorney position to make you change your mind about becoming a doctor like your father?

Teresa Fabi: Being a doctor was never really an option for me — math and science were definitely not my strong suits.  A friend (who happened to be a doctor) suggested that I look into going to law school, and so I did.  

BE: Being in Brooklyn during the mid-’80s — when it was arguably a different place — before neighborhood gentrification, what motivated you to stay and have a career here?

Fabi: I was invited to come to the KCDA for a panel interview with some senior attorneys.  It was 1985 and my first time ever setting foot in the borough. I remember I stayed with a friend at her uncle’s house on Monroe Place. I instantly fell in love with Brooklyn Heights, and I remember thinking how incredibly lucky if I were given an opportunity to live here.

BE: Someone else would have run when confronted with what they witnessed visiting crime scenes in bad neighborhoods at the time, but it only seemed to have made you more determined to confront the problems and try to fix them.

Fabi: Anyone who has ever done this job understands why — it’s incredibly rewarding in every possible way.  You develop your skills as a lawyer and litigator, you work with all kinds of people, and you get to feel as if you’ve made a difference.  What could be better than that?

BE: What programs have you personally initiated and pursued that have a made a lasting difference in the borough?

Fabi: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been involved on some level with a number of innovative criminal justice programs over the years. Additionally, I helped develop the Pro Bono and Deferred Associates Programs.  These programs enabled young attorneys to come into the DA’s Office for brief stints in order to get some public service experience.  For the young associates from big law firms who participated in the program, it was a unique opportunity to see what life was like working as a lawyer in the public sector. Of all the programs, the one in which I take the most pride is Drew House.  I wrote the initial proposal for that program and spent years working with a wonderful team of women to see it actually materialize. In 2014, in addition to being promoted to deputy bureau chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau, I was delighted to have also been directed by District Attorney Thompson to even further broaden this office’s focus on alternatives to prison for female defendants.  To that end, I partnered with a number of service agencies, including Housing Plus Solutions, the Women’s Prison Association, Project Greenhope and others, in order to seek additional funding for these alternatives, as well as to attempt to develop new ones. Additionally, I served as the point person to screen all possible eligible candidates for these programs.

BE: Please tell more about Drew House, and how it has helped address the issue of promoting prison reform by giving mothers the opportunity to be with their children while serving their time?

Fabi: Drew House has given mothers charged with felonies — women who would otherwise be looking at significant upstate prison time —  the opportunity to complete court mandates in a residential facility in Brooklyn while they reside with their children. Drew House has been a very successful program — the first of its kind in the country.  It was evaluated by Columbia University, with the result being a strong recommendation that it be scaled up and replicated. A couple of months ago, I received an email from a research scholar in the U.K. who has recently been granted a Winston Churchill Fellowship to travel and research different approaches to dealing with mothers who are involved in the criminal justice system.  She had read about Drew House on a Department of Justice website, and she has been funded to come to the United States to visit and study the project.

BE: Do you believe this is the correct alternative to helping women who are incarcerated by allowing them to carry out their sentences in their homes, or in a group home?

Fabi: In the cases of the women who have served out their mandates at Drew, I think you need only look at where they are now compared to where they would have been had they gone to prison: I see women who have gotten their lives back on track, who have learned to be better mothers; and I see children who have watched as their mothers have addressed deep-seated issues, gotten stronger and become better parents and citizens.  

BE: How have you seen the pressures of the D.A.’s office change in the three decades you have been there, while serving under four District Attorneys?

Fabi: I prosecuted narcotics cases under the Rockefeller Drug Laws in the 1980’s and 1990’s – the height of the crack epidemic – at a time when the lack of understanding of addiction and its role in many of these cases, coupled with the intense pressure to incarcerate offenders, resulted in a perfect storm.  In particular, we witnessed an increase in the numbers of incarcerated women unlike anything we had ever seen before.  Now, in 2016, drugs courts and drug treatment alternatives to incarceration have become the norm.

BE: Can you tell us about Back On Track, and other programs you have undertaken while heading up the Crime Prevention Division.

Fabi: Back on Track is a school which is operated by the District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Board of Education.  It is a unique opportunity to select out students who are having particular difficulties and/or hardships and to place them in a smaller, more structured school environment.  

BE: What are your proudest accomplishments as a DA?

Fabi: Feeling that I have impacted, in some small way, the lives of the people with whom I’ve worked and those represented by the cases that have passed through my hands.

BE: Aside from cooking more intricate dishes, spending quality time with your 86-year-old mother in Scranton and being with your children, do you have any plans to write a book about your incredible experiences over the past three decades?

Fabi: I have certainly thought about it. Time will tell.


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