Ex-judge, deputy vying for top prosecutor job

February 28, 2009 1:02:51 PM PST
Hours after Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said he'd retire, candidates for one of the nation's most powerful prosecutor posts quickly emerged - including a former judge who says she'd be "more proactive" than the 89-year-old incumbent. Leslie Crocker Snyder, 66, is at the forefront of the race she lost to Morgenthau in 2005, having been a declared candidate for months.

"Morgenthau has certainly done a lot of good things, but prosecutors make mistakes," she told The Associated Press on Saturday.

She said his biggest mistake was the prosecution of two men in the 1990 fatal shooting of a bouncer outside Manhattan's Palladium nightclub. A judge threw out the convictions in 2005 after new evidence surfaced.

"The DA refused to admit that he allowed two innocent men to stay in jail for over 16 years - even though his senior people had told him these two men were not guilty," Snyder said Saturday.

A Morgenthau spokeswoman had no immediate comment Saturday on Crocker Snyder's remarks.

Morgenthau said Friday that he would leave at year's end and not run for re-election in November after a 35-year career that made him one of the most prominent district attorneys in the country.

The news set off a scramble to replace Morgenthau. At least a half dozen other names are being mentioned in the race to head the country's busiest district attorney's office, including Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a former assistant district attorney, and Daniel Castleman, Morgenthau's current chief deputy.

The winner will lead about 500 assistant prosecutors who handled almost 3.5 million cases during Morgenthau's tenure. Prominent cases included the prosecution of mobsters like John Gotti, CEOs like L. Dennis Kozlowski and a number of celebrities.

"I think what should be important are issues rather than personalities," said attorney Ronald Kuby. He said the next top prosecutor should more seriously examine police brutality cases and be more open to re-examining alleged wrongful convictions.

After Morgenthau's announcement Friday, all Crocker Snyder would say was: "I wish Mr. Morgenthau well. He has been a great institution for New York, and I hope he is happy in the next phase of his life."

But she was willing to offer stronger observations Saturday about his performance.

"The real issue is having a district attorney who is more proactive," said Crocker Snyder said, speaking from her Manhattan home.

Crocker Snyder, a partner at the Manhattan law firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, won about 40 percent of the vote against Morgenthau in 2005.

She said the district attorney should practice "innovative" criminal justice, while creating a "second-look bureau" that would re-examine cases if there's suspicion of wrongful conviction.

Crocker Snyder also said she would try to create "community courts" that handle cases involving crimes linked to mental health, drugs and domestic violence.

And she said she'd push for alternatives to incarceration when it came to young, nonviolent offenders who could instead be rehabilitated with treatment, job training, education and counseling.

Vance, a former assistant district attorney under Morgenthau in the 1980s, issued a statement Friday saying he would "be in the race to succeed him" and would soon make a formal announcement.

Richard M. Aborn, also a former prosecutor, has said he would be a candidate if Morgenthau didn't run again. Other names that surfaced include a former deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, Randy Mastro.

Mastro wouldn't comment on his candidacy Saturday, but said he's "gratified by the many folks who have reached out to me in the past 24 hours and encouraged me to run."

All the possible candidates are Democrats. Unless a strong Republican candidate emerges in the next months, the winner of the September primary will effectively win the election.

Kuby, a prominent defense attorney, said that while he considers Crocker Snyder "the leading contender," she has "no track record" in the area of alternatives to incarceration.

"She took particular glee in sentencing people to the maximum available," Kuby said, adding that she "very much acted like a prosecutor when she was on the bench."