Sunday, January 28, 2007

David Soares - One of the most feared and respected politicians in NY?

The 1/18/07 issue of the Metroland features Albany District Attorney David Soares on the front cover. The photo has him in a "tough" pose - arms crossed, no smile. There's a similar photo at the first page of the article, which you can also see on the online version: http://www.metroland.net/back_issues/vol30_no03/features.html

The cover text indicates that Soares is now "one of the most feared and respected politicians in New York State." I don't think so.

I know David and like him on a personal level. We were both running for office in 2004 and I chatted with him a few times during that campaign. He's certainly pleasant. I also like the fact that he has spoken out about the drug war, both during his campaign and since. He does talk the drug policy reform talk.

My biggest criticism of Soares is that while he talks the talk, he does not walk the walk. I have seen no significant reform of drug prosecutions in Albany County since he took over, with one exception. It used to be routine here in marijuana cases for the ACOD to go through, no problems. It is commonplace in other parts of the state. I've blogged before about this issue involving marijuana ACODs and marijuana defense. Since he took office, low-level marijuana offenders often face the demand for community service in order to get the ACOD. For someone who's supposed to be going easier on low-level drug offenders, this is not what was expected. His office is being tougher on marijuana than any other DA's office I know of - and I've handled marijuana cases in roughly 20 counties. But it's not just that they're being tougher. Their position on this is actually illegal. See CPL 170.56, compare it with 170.55, and then let me know what you think (by posting a comment on this post, for example).

Beyond marijuana, I have seen the DA's office under Soares continue to prosecute low-level offenders for other drugs, and do so vigorously. His office certainly considers drug treatment and other efforts in plea negotiations, but that was true under his predecessor and is common elsewhere. In the article Soares complains about insufficient funding from the county. This was also a problem that his predecessor complained about, as does just about every bureaucrat in every county, city, town and village in the country.

There's a simple solution to the funding problem - prosecutorial discretion. Direct your assistant district attorneys to go easy on the drug cases. Don't indict the low-level drug felonies and leave them as misdemeanors. Propose ACODs on the drug misdemeanors. Don't oppose applications by defense lawyers for dismissals in the interest of justice. Review all your cases and throw out the crappy ones. I've got a non-drug felony pending right now in Albany County, and it's one of the worst pieces of garbage I've seen - and I've seen some bad prosecution cases in my day. The Beth Geisel case is another good example. I know the politically correct thing to say is that it was a crime, but please don't tell me that a 16-year-old boy who has sex with an attractive 40-year-old woman is a victim. Meanwhile, dump the prostitution cases too. They're another waste of time and taxpayer money. While we're at it, get some volunteer college or law school interns and set up a unit for traffic cases so that cases can be resolved by mail. That would free up time not only for ADAs but also for town attorneys and local judges. Now that we've cleaned out half the cases, maybe your ADAs will find the time to return phone calls from defense lawyers. I can't be the only one they don't call back. -- I'm not cracking on the Albany ADAs here. They're almost all good to work with in Court, but it would be nice if they returned phone calls. This was a problem under the previous DA as well.

Now let's talk about this "feared and respected" thing. I agree that he's probably well known in Albany County, and reasonably well known in the Capital Region thanks to media coverage locally. But beyond the Capital Region Soares is mostly unknown. You can't be feared and respected in New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, etc. if they don't know who you are, and they don't.

While he's well-known here, I don't know anyone who fears him. He certainly earned some political respect for winning the DA race in 2004, though we'll see how that plays out in 2008. I think Soares knows his days are numbered and he's looking around Spitzer and Cuomo's offices to see if he can find a more secure job. We know he's going to face a tough primary from the Dems, and we know they fight dirty too. If he wins the primary he'll be bruised, and if the Albany GOP gets its act together, they might actually run a decent campaign in 2008 for this office. I'd be more impressed if he were feared and respected as a prosecutor, but I don't hear a lot of that from the other lawyers. If you want to talk about DAs who are respected as prosecutors, you'd really be talking about guys like Jed Conboy in Montgomery County and Jim Sacket in Schoharie. They actually try cases. The Columbia County DAs office is feared more than any other. The Saratoga DA's office is very well respected by just about every defense lawyer. Most of the ADAs in most of the offices are good people - I've never met an ADA in Schenectady or Greene County I didn't like.

Going through the article a little more, there's a section where the author raves about how Soares handled the Hevesi case, including "his successful plea bargaining."

Successful? The guy stole over $200K and got no jail time!

Then there's this bit in the article: [Soares] has not made a spectacle of arresting politicians; he hasn't stormed an office building and laid the cuffs on someone in a suit. And, according to Soares, that is simply part of his approach of one standard of justice. "While you can exonerate someone legally, you can't give them their reputation back," says Soares. "So we proceed with extreme caution whenever we are inquiring about elected officials."

Um ... one standard of justice ... proceed with extreme caution for elected officials ... that's two standards of justice! Hevesi got a completely different standard of justice than the everyday defendant gets. If he were to get the same standard as everyone else, he'd get arrested on a Friday night in one of the towns, arraigned the next morning and denied bail because there's no DA available to consent, spend three nights in jail and get bailed out on Monday with bail set at $500,000. The offer would probably be 6 and 5 (6 months in jail with 5 years probation), but they'd probably come down to 90 days in jail, or maybe do the 6 months but only make him spend his weekends in jail for that period, allowing him to work and sleep at home during the week. During the 5 years of probation, once a month or so someone would come to his office or house and make him pee in a cup to see if he's had any alcohol or drugs. If they find any he'd be in violation and get sent to state prison for a year or so. How about proceeding with extreme caution in every case. That's the one standard I'd like to see.
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