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DA Candidate Anne Swern touts her work with problem-solving courts

June 1, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Anne Swern explained to the Brooklyn Eagle that she didn’t set out to be a politician, but after the untimely death of former DA Ken Thompson, she is running to fill his seat because she feels she’s the only truly qualified candidate. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Treatment courts have gotten a lot of attention in recent years, but Brooklyn was an early pioneer and one candidate for district attorney in the borough is highlighting her record with those courts as a major part of her campaign.

“I helped to create the treatment courts, I supervised them and created the policies,” Anne Swern said proudly. “Justice and safety are top concerns for any DA and that having as many arrows in the quiver to be able to offer as many alternatives to traditional prosecution creates a better opportunity for justice and safety for victims.”

Swern, who was born in Brooklyn, raised in Long Island and moved back to the borough for good to attend Brooklyn Law School (BLS), is just one of seven candidates expected to compete for the Brooklyn DA seat during the September primaries. Many of those candidates are former assistant DAs with similar backgrounds. However, she said that the only reason she’s running is because she feels her experience with the treatment courts and her two years with the Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) sets her apart.

“At first blush, we all look similar since we were all assistant DAs, but there is a big diversion of our expertise, our experience and the way we implement reform,” Swern said. “Everyone says that they are for reform, but saying it, implementing it and making it sustainable is not something that everyone is capable of.”

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Swern has a legal career that spans more than 35 years and has worked as an ADA for four different elected district attorneys as she worked her way from managing the Intake and Criminal Court Bureaus to first assistant district attorney. She has also been an adjunct professor at BLS for 20 years and served for two years as managing counsel for BDS.

Her expertise is her work with the problem-solving courts, which is part of her curriculum at BLS and a topic that she frequently lectures on as co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Re-Entry Committee.

“It started [in the early ’90s] with community service being used more,” Swern said. “Then it branched out into every single thing that I was a part of planning, implementing and perfecting — the drug court, the mental health court, veterans court, Red Hook Community Justice Center, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, all of it.”

“Anne was instrumental to the planning and execution of the treatment court reforms that are now widely taken for granted across the country,” said Michael Farkas, immediate past president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. “Brooklyn has been an incubator for criminal justice reform for decades, and Anne deserves credit for her hard work in that area.”

Swern, who is the only BLS graduate to be honored as Alumni of the Year as an ADA, said that besides her work with the treatment courts, the next big thing that sets her apart is her work with BDS.

“Nobody goes from being the first assistant DA to the managing counsel of public defenders,” Swern said proudly. “I think it speaks to my reputation and the kind of ADA I was. One of the biggest criticisms of a DA is that they get tunnel vision, and that’s how you get wrongful convictions.

“It’s hard to have that same tunnel vision after you’ve worked for both the DA and BDS,” she continued. “You develop a peripheral vision — or 360 vision — because you are able to see things from both sides and you see that it’s important not to be playing games with people’s lives.”

To avoid tunnel vision in her ADAs, Swern plans on developing a system within the DA’s Office to ensure that all evidence is turned over in a timely manner. She also wants good training and constant supervision of ADAs to ensure that those convicted of crimes are actually the ones committing them.

“You could say that you are in favor of bail reform, or closing Rikers Island, but how do you make that happen?” Swern asked rhetorically. “Every candidate says they’re in favor of reform, but it’s easy to say. How do you make that happen? That is my unique qualification — to get that done.”

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