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Say what, Kate? Nassau County needs a real district attorney

October 28, 2015
New York Daily News


Editorial Board

To stop inexperienced, ill-informed lawyers from blowing cases, the Republican candidate for Nassau County district attorney pledges that new prosecutors will get 30 days of training.

If she’s elected, Kate Murray should register as remedial education student No. 1.

Murray is utterly unprepared to serve as Nassau DA. She cannot knowledgably discuss basics of New York penal laws and is clueless about pressing issues surrounding criminal justice.

After serving as presiding supervisor of Long Island’s Town of Hempstead for 13 years, Murray was tapped for district attorney based on a singular credential: She is a power in a powerful Republican political machine.

Licensed to practice law in 1989, Murray worked as a junior lawyer in two firms and in the attorney general’s office. She served in the state Assembly and as town clerk before devoting her career to a post in which she touts her stewardship of “stunning beaches,” “bayside golf courses,” “popular fishing piers” and “top-notch art classes.”

The DA’s slot opened after former occupant Kathleen Rice won election to Congress. Murray is competing against Democrat Madeline Singas, now serving as acting district attorney. The Daily News Editorial Board interviewed Murray by telephone in a memorable conversation.

In July, Gov. Cuomo appointed the state attorney general as a special prosecutor who will supersede local district attorneys to investigate those deaths. He said he pushed the DAs aside to restore faith after a grand jury declined to indict an NYPD officer in the chokehold fatality of Eric Garner.

Many of the state’s 62 district attorneys protest that Cuomo has wrongly undermined their authority, and they argue that the governor’s system is unworkable.

Murray was asked: “If a police officer shoots an unarmed resident of Nassau County, how will your office respond?”

She answered: “Again, obviously we would respond in a very decisive and very quick manner. Obviously when there is a scenario that begs an investigation, I certainly will do that. . . .

“You can’t make a broad brush. But the bottom line is, as district attorney, if that happens, we will be absolutely there very, very quickly to investigate, to make sure that members of the minority community feel that their district attorney is doing the right thing by them, is investigating aggressively. That’s exactly what I will do.”

No mention that the governor had stripped DAs of the power to prosecute when a cop kills an unarmed civilian, or that the DAs are struggling to work out protocols with the attorney general.

Prosecutors chafe under a state law that gives witnesses automatic immunity for crimes discussed in grand jury testimony. If a DA asks whether a witness committed a murder and the witness says yes, the witness goes free on the killing.

The sweeping protection is called “transactional immunity.” Federal grand jury witnesses get only “use immunity,” meaning the prosecutor could not use the murder confession in court but could still convict the killer on other proof.

Asked whether she would support changing grand jury immunity rules, Murray turned the world of automatic immunity on its head by venturing that DAs can offer immunity to people “to get reluctant witnesses to come forward so that a case can be presented to the grand jury.”

New York judges may hold defendants on bail only if the defendants are flight risks. The state’s chief judge has called for allowing judges to consider other factors, including the seriousness of the alleged offense.

Murray said she would base bail requests on a legal standard presently barred.

“I’m not necessarily exactly sure on the standards for the state,” she explained, adding, “The seriousness of the case and the scenario that went on in that particular case. That should drive the discussion on whether bail will be set with it or without.”

Leandra’s Law mandates that those convicted of driving while intoxicated must install an ignition interlock on their cars for at least six months. The device prevents a car from starting unless a puff of the driver’s breath shows the driver is not under the influence of alcohol.

Although the statute imposes an interlock regardless of whether a drunk serves jail time, Murray saw the device “as a part of parole, as a part of the post-jail scenario.”

Murray charged that Singas’ prosecutors fail to meet case deadlines. One such time limit generally gives not more than six days to indict a felony defendant who is held in jail or the defendant will be released. This is widely known as the 180-80 rule, that being its section of the law.

Are Singas’ prosecutors violating 180-80, Murray was asked. She fumphed.

“Do you know what the 180-80 rule is?” she was asked.

“I don’t know specifically, no,” she answered.

Like Murray, former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is a product of the Hempstead GOP. In May, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint that depicted Skelos and his son as participating in a wide-ranging extortion scheme.

A district attorney’s duties include cracking down on corruption. Asked whether she had read the feds’ detailed rendition of Skelos’ alleged misdeeds, Murray answered, “No. No.”

She’s perfect for the machine.