A few days ago, I noted that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. was less than stellar on prosecuting the rich and powerful.
It appears that someone at New York Magazine noticed his habit of kissing up and punching down as well:
To hear the media tell it, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is soft on white-collar crime. First came the news that an attorney for Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. had arranged a fund-raiser for Vance after he refused to prosecute them for fraud. Then there was Vance’s decision not to file sexual-assault charges against Harvey Weinstein, even though police had caught the Hollywood mogul on tape confessing to the crime. Last month, spurred by a story in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the state attorney general to investigate Vance’s handling of the case. The incidents have cost the DA: During his uncontested election for a third term in November, 10 percent of voters were so fed up with him that they went to the trouble of writing in someone whose name wasn’t Cy Vance.
But all the attention on Vance’s treatment of the rich and powerful has obscured a more surprising aspect of his record: The DA, who styles himself a progressive reformer, is actually far more punitive toward poor and minority defendants than his counterparts in other boroughs. According to a report issued last year by a special commission on Rikers Island, Vance’s office was responsible for almost 38 percent of the city’s jail population in 2016, even though it handled just 29 percent of all criminal cases in New York. “No other borough comes close,” the report concluded. Brooklyn — despite having a million more residents than Manhattan — accounted for only 22 percent of those behind bars.
That parade of imprisonment is compounded by Vance’s onerous demands for bail. In 2016, the DA’s own statistics show, his office detained 17 percent of those it charged with misdemeanors or minor infractions — anything from smoking a joint to jumping a turnstile. Only Staten Island, with one-seventh as many petty crimes as Manhattan, matched that level of incarceration.
Then there’s Vance’s notoriously stingy approach to providing defense attorneys with the police reports and witness statements they need to defend their clients. While most of the city’s other DAs have moved toward the practice of “open file discovery,” releasing crucial records shortly after arraignment, Vance pursues what defense attorneys call “trial by ambush,” using the narrow requirements in the state’s law on pretrial disclosure — considered one of the most restrictive in the nation — to withhold vital evidence from indigent defendants until the last possible moment. As a result, public defenders say, poor clients in Brooklyn can easily obtain evidence that is denied to those accused of similar crimes in Manhattan. “It’s two boroughs divided by a river,” says Bill Gibney, a veteran of the Legal Aid Society, the city’s oldest and largest public defense organization. “Different policies, different results.”
The fact that Vance ran unopposed is a disgrace. Someone should run against him in the primary as well as the general, whether it be a Republican, the Working Families Party, the DSA, or Raving Monster Looney party.
The DA’s office under Vance is a horror show.