OPINION: We should welcome efforts to root out corruption, wherever it is found
A 19th century British proverb holds that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Recent events in Brooklyn and Queens and throughout New York state show that saying is as true today as it was 200 years ago.
In September, New York became the first state to establish an independent commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct by the offices of the state’s 62 district attorneys, including Kings and Queens counties. The controversial initiative is designed to increase accountability among prosecutors, who are some of the most powerful agents in the criminal justice system but rarely face punishment for misconduct.
The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will create a commission of 11 members, appointed by officials from all three branches of the state government, to investigate allegations of misconduct by county district attorney’s offices.
A body will now exist with the sole purpose of investigating the investigators who facilitate the prosecution of criminal cases. This legislation passed with bipartisan support, an indication that there is real concern that corruption is pervasive in the offices of the prosecutors wherein resides significant if not absolute power.
John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a letter to Cuomo that the commission “will go a long way towards holding those who abuse their powers accountable, and towards deterring those who may be tempted to break the rules.”
For their part, prosecutors slammed the legislation, calling it unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional.
Criminal justice advocates told the Huffington Post that “prosecutors in New York state have a long history of misconduct, which has often led to false convictions and subsequent exonerations.” The state has one of the largest totals of exonerations in the nation (267 since 1987), according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
In fairness, it should be noted that an exoneration does not automatically imply that a defendant is innocent, only that a mistake was made in the prosecution of the case.
Of course, rampant corruption exists on both sides of the criminal justice fence. Just this week, a Queens-based criminal defense attorney and a man referred to as a “fixer” were indicted in Federal court on charges they bribed a witness who testified in a double-homicide trial on Long Island.
“This office and our law enforcement partners will never tolerate the rigging of a trial and will vigorously prosecute attorneys or anyone else who seeks to undermine the integrity of the judicial process by witness tampering,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.
According to The New York Times , Charles Gallman, of Queens, is suspected of using his connections in the criminal underworld to help throw other cases. The alleged fixer has a criminal history that spans decades and includes convictions for manslaughter, weapons possession, robbery and various drug offenses, authorities said.
The witness bribery scheme was uncovered through “court-authorized intercepted communication” between the defense attorney and the fixer, according to prosecutors.
This month, seven New York Police Department officers, including a member of the department’s vice squad, were arrested in connection with a gambling and prostitution ring operating in Queens and Brooklyn.
Officers from the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) arrested the three sergeants, two detectives and two officers after a three-year probe into the alleged operation. Investigators also arrested 40 civilians. The officers are suspected of providing protection for the criminal enterprise.
The IAB, which too often are portrayed as the bad guys in “Law and Order” and other police dramas did an outstanding job in this and many other investigations.
It’s unfortunate that IAB, the prosecutorial misconduct commission are needed, but facts show they are necessary. Just as it is true that power corrupts, it remains true that sunlight is the best disinfectant.
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