UPDATED: JUNE 25th Primary Day: The Queens County District Attorney Election. Time for Criminal Just


As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu

May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah (God) Be Upon You

Next Tuesday, June 25th is the scheduled date for the New York state primary that includes a number of judicial candidates, but mainly features a hotly contested race to replace former Queens District Attorney Richard Brown who resigned from the office in January 2019 after serving for nearly twenty-seven years and later died in March at the age of eighty six. While Brown did some good while serving in office-- I can think of the Drug Treatment Court in which Judge Leslie Leach presided-- he was still prosecuting minor marijuana offenses and fare evasion e.g., people jumping subway turnstiles. The office also used coercive tactics through policies aimed at compelling people to plead guilty. Queens prosecutors, for instance, will only negotiate plea deals before a grand jury indictment, a period when defendants have not seen the evidence against them. The office also encourages defendants to waive their rights to a speedy trial or risk losing a chance at a plea deal. Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states: "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense." In short, we refer to these words as "the presumption of innocence." It was not working as defined in the Queens DA office during the tenure of its former office holder. Queens had the highest conviction rate of all of the boroughs. It is time for change.

There are seven candidates on the June 25th ballot (in alphabetical order): Tiffany Caban, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik and Jose Nieves from which to select who will move forward to the general election in November, 2019. Since the announcement of Brown's resignation earlier in the year there have been numerous candidates forums, debates and plenty of campaign literature arriving in mailboxes-- that is, if you or someone in your household votes. Registered voters receive campaign literature; unregistered individuals do not. There are two million New Yorkers in the state who are not registered to vote. Chances are that you may have received information at your home, or have viewed numerous commercials that have been aired on television and via social media as the election has grown more near. Dependent upon the amount of campaign funds or people who have endorsed the candidates or adequate means of communication-- there are likely still some registered voters in Queens who are not paying attention to this important election. Why is this election important? The District Attorney determines which laws are prosecuted and/or which laws are not. More recently elected district attorneys in New York City have been eager to spearhead initiatives around marijuana prosecutions, conviction review units and other progressive criminal justice reforms. The Queens office had been resistant to change. Criminal justice reforms in addition to progressive leadership are expected today.

What does the District Attorney do?

District Attorneys have broad (some say overly so) discretionary powers over how laws are enforced in their county. They can bring -- or decline to bring -- criminal charges as well as initiate civil cases. Their decisions can influence whether police arrest people for specific crimes. The office is responsible for the prosecution of violations of New York state laws.

Why is it important to vote in this primary election for the Queens DA?

You matter. Your family matters. The community in which you live matters. Laws are supposed to be the fairly applied rules that tie and govern society. Your vote is your voice so far as the representation you choose. It is expected that voters vote their interest albeit also true that some voters vote against their own interest-- when they are not informed or allow their vote to be taken for granted.

The information below has been culled from a variety of sources that are also identified below (please see the links). Insha'Allah (God Willing), it will inform you of some of the captured positions of the candidates and where you can view or obtain more information about any one of them. Some of their positions may have changed since the date of the comments, if any as well as other topics that have come to the fore.

Please feel free to contact us at seqmc1@gmail.com to obtain our Primary Voter's Brief Guide to the Queens District Attorney Election that provides some information about the six candidates as well as where to look for more. Some Voter resources are also provided:

You get to cast one vote on Primary Day for the candidate of your choice for Queens DA. Make it count, for good!

Note: There will also be judicial candidates on the ballot as well. Be sure to read the ballot and vote responsibly. The South East Muslim Collective, Inc. does NOT endorse candidates. We endorse and encourage VOTING in EVERY ELECTION!

View Campaign Videos of all six of the candidates:

https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8518-campaign-ads-queens-district-attorney-candidates-provide-video-evidence

View the June 10th NY1 District Attorney Candidate's Debate:

https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2019/06/12/democratic-debate-for-queens-district-attorney-ny1

Need to Check if you are enrolled in a party (only registered democrats are voting in the primary races) or determine which district in which you are registered to vote?

Click here.

For judicial and party position races, look up your sample ballot at nyc.pollsitelocator.com.

ABOUT THE CANDIDATES FOR QUEENS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):

Tiffany Cabán

Age: 31

Home base: Astoria

Job: Staff attorney, New York County Defender Services since 2015

Previous job: Public defender at the Legal Aid Society

Total contributions, as of the latest filing deadline on May 20: $256,673

Biggest individual donor: Patty Quillin, wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, $35,000

More information: campaign website: https://www.cabanforqueens.com

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

Organizations: Organizations: 504 Democratic Club, Amplify Her NYC, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Citizen Action, Color of Change PAC, Empire State Indivisible, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, LGBTQ Victory Fund, LIC Coalition, Make the Road Action, Muslim Democratic Club of New York City, National Association of Social Workers New York City Chapter, National Democratic Socialists of America, New Queens Democrats, New Visions Democratic Club, New York Immigration Action, New York Progressive Action Network, The New York Times, No IDC NY, NYC Democratic Socialists of America, One Queens Indivisible, Our Progressive Future, Our Revolution, People for Bernie, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Queens United Independent Progressives, Real Justice PAC, Red Canary Song, Rockaway Revolution, Sunrise NYC, VOCAL New York Action, Women of Color for Progress, Working Families Party, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders Labor: UAW Region 9A Public figures: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State. Sens. Jessica Ramos, Gustavo Rivera, Julia Salazar and Luis Sepúlveda; Assembly members Harvey Epstein, Ron Kim, Yuh-line Niou and Dan Quart; New York City Council members Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Jimmy Van Bramer; Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner; Suffolk County (Massachusetts) District Attorney Rachael Rollins; activists Cynthia Nixon, Linda Sarsour, Yusef Salaam and Zephyr Teachout

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Not approved

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Approved

Melinda Katz

Age: 53

Home base: Forest Hills

Job: Queens borough president since 2014

Previous jobs: Greenberg Traurig lobbyist, New York City councilwoman, director of community boards for the Queens borough president, assemblywoman and securities attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Manges

Total contributions, as of May 20: $1,419,243

Biggest individual donor: The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council and Local 6 Committee on Political Education, with both hotel unions led by Peter Ward, gave a total of $52,000

More information: campaign website: https://katz4da.com/

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

Organizations: Hum Hindustani, Indian Panorama, Jamaica Bangladesh Friends Society, National Organization for Women – NYC and Brooklyn-Queens, New American Voters Association, Planned Parenthood of New York City Votes PAC, Queens County Democratic Party, Queens Gazette, South Asian Democratic Alliance, Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC Labor: 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, Alliance of South Asian American Labor, CWA Local 1180, DC37 Local 372, International Union of Elevator Constructors Local One, Mason Tenders District Council, New York Hotel Trades Council, New York State Laborers, SMART Transportation Division, Teamsters Local 237, Teamsters Local 831, TWU Local 100, Uniformed EMT’s Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Local 2507, Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854, United Federation of Teachers, United Probation Officers Association Public figures: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Reps. Adriano Espaillat, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory Meeks and Tom Suozzi; state Sens. Joe Addabbo, Leroy Comrie, John Liu and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Assembly members Jeffrion Aubry, Ed Braunstein, Vivian Cook, Michael DenDekker, Andrew Hevesi, Alicia Hyndman, Stacey Pheffer Amato, Mike Miller and David Weprin; New York City Council members Adrienne Adams, Bob Holden, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, I. Daneek Miller, Francisco Moya, Donovan Richards and Paul Vallone; activist Kirsten John Foy

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Qualified

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Approved

*Rory Lancman (Withdraws from Race, 6/21/19)

* NOTE: Rory Lancman's name will still be on the ballot on June 25th/ Voting for Lancman would be what might be considered as a wasted vote. Lancman is no longer vying for the office. Lancman withdrew on June 21st and stated he supported the candidacy of Melinda Katz. Vote for someone who is still running for Queens District Attorney.

Greg Lasak

Age: 66

Home base: Richmond Hill

Job: Queens Supreme Court judge from 2004 to 2018

Previous job: Executive assistant district attorney in Queens

Total contributions, as of May 20: $1,258,982

Biggest individual donor: Pistilli Realty Group, $20,250

More information: candidate website: https://www.greglasak.com/

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

Organizations: Asian American Congress, Citizens Union, the New York Daily News, the New York Post Labor: Detectives Endowment Association, Heat & Frost Insulators Local 12, Lieutenants Benevolent Association, Local 768 - New York City Health Services Employees, Local 983 - New York City Motor Vehicle Operators, Local 1070 - Court, County and Department of Probation Employees, Local 1549 NYC Clerical Administrative Employees, New York City Fire Marshals Benevolent Association, New York State Court Clerks Association, New York State Court Officers Association, New York State Supreme Court Officers Association, New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association, MTA Police Benevolent Association, Port Authority Police Benevolent Association Inc., Sergeants Benevolent Association, Sheet Metal Workers Local 28, Tile, Marble & Terrazzo Union Local 7 Public Figures: Rep. Kathleen Rice

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well Qualified

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Approved

Betty Lugo

Age: 60

Home base: Maspeth

Job: Founding partner at Pacheco & Lugo PLLC since 1992, practicing commercial litigation

Previous job: Assistant district attorney in Nassau County

Total contributions, as of May 20: $97,627

Biggest individual donor: Lugo has given the campaign $28,000 and loaned it another $40,000

More information: candidate website: https://www.bettylugoforda.com/

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

Public figures: Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, former Assemblyman Luis Diaz

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Did not present herself for the interview.

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Did not attend the interview.

Mina Malik

Age: 48

Home base: Forest Hills

Job: Former deputy attorney general for Washington, D.C., from 2017 to 2018

Previous jobs: Harvard Law School lecturer, executive director of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, special counsel to the Brooklyn district attorney, assistant district attorney in Queens and investigator for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Total contributions, as of May 20: $608,644

Biggest individual donor: Malik and her husband, attorney Derek Sells, have together loaned the campaign $210,000

More information: candidate website: http://www.mina4da.com/

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

Organizations: American Pakistani Public Affairs Committee Public figures: Karl Racine, attorney general for the District of Columbia; Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney; Angela J. Davis, criminal justice scholar

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Qualified

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Approved

Jose Nieves

Age: 44

Home base: Queens Village

Job: Former deputy chief attorney general in the New York state Attorney General’s office from 2016 to 2018

Previous jobs: New York City Department of Correction litigator, Federal Aviation Administration counsel, U.S. Army Reserve captain and assistant district attorney in Brooklyn

Total contributions, as of May 20: $84,852

Biggest individual donor: Grace Jean, Damien Brown and Milton Florez, all attorneys, gave $2,500 each

More information: candidate website: https://voteforthevet.org/

ENDORSEMENTS (As of June 19, 2019):

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY QUEENS COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION'S JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Qualified

QUALIFICATIONS RATING BY NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION: Approved

SOME OF THE ISSUES AND POSITIONS OF THE CANDIDATES:

On marijuana:

Cabán would decline to prosecute marijuana-related offenses, and all drug possession cases.

Katz would decline to prosecute marijuana-related offenses, but considers drugged driving to be a serious offense.

Lasak would decline to prosecute marijuana-related offenses.

Lugo says she would push the NYPD to stop engaging with people in Queens based on the alleged smell of marijuana alone. She would not prosecute “low-level” marijuana offenses.

Malik would decline to prosecute charges of marijuana possession.

Nieves would decline to prosecute low-level marijuana possession charges, but he says he would prosecute sales when it “threatens public safety.”

On prosecuting “broken-windows” offenses like turnstile jumping or unlicensed driving:

Cabán would decline to prosecute all such offenses.

Katz says she would “look to significantly reduce prosecution of these types of offenses,” but would “consider each arrest on its merits” and would look to alternatives to fines or incarceration as a means of resolution.

Lasak would decline to prosecute most examples of such offenses, and would proceed in all cases “knowing the repercussions of a criminal conviction.”

Lugo would decline to prosecute most examples of such offenses.

Malik decline to prosecute all such offenses, and any other charges “that target the poor or are enforced discriminatorily.”

Nieves would decline to prosecute most such offenses, instead focusing the resources of the office on prosecuting more serious crimes.

Ending Cash Bail

Cabán supports the end of cash bail for any offense, arguing it is representative of income inequality in the city. Cabán says the Queens DA's office can check in with defendants to ensure they return to court.

Katz supports not asking for cash bail for any offense. She says the DA could remand a repeat offender or those charged of more serious crimes.

Lasak supports not requiring cash bail for minor offenses, but Lasak says he wants the state to change the upcoming bail law to allow judges to consider the seriousness of the charge.

Malik supports not requiring cash bail and instead calls for monitoring defendants and having them check in with the DA's office.

Lugo supports ending bail for low-level offenses, but she is open to requiring it for violent offenses or if a defendant is considered a flight-risk.

Nieves supports not requiring cash bail for any offense, arguing it is a factor in stop-and-frisk in New York City disproportionately impacting people of color. Nieves says defendants could be monitored or fitted with ankle monitors.

On jails:

Cabán says she supports closing Rikers Island and instead incarcerating people in other existing jails, treated as “transitional housing” with supportive services that prepare detainees for reentry.

Katz supports closing Rikers Island and calls the building of new jails in each borough “a better model for ensuring cases are heard in a timely manner,” while criticizing the specific proposal for the Queens jail.

Lasak would build or refurbish existing jails on Rikers Island, rather than build new ones elsewhere.

Lugo would build or refurbish existing jails on Rikers Island, rather than build new ones elsewhere.

Malik supports closing Rikers Island and says that borough-based jails “could be the solution.”

Nieves wants to close Rikers and incarcerate people in“community detention facilities” instead of “superstructures” like the 29-story jail building planned for Kew Gardens.

On prostitution:

Caban supports the full decriminalization of sex work and would decline to prosecute all related offenses, including those against customers (“johns”) and landlords owning buildings where sex work is done.

Katz would aim to avoid charging sex workers, instead focusing on pimps, traffickers and other enablers of abuse. She has voiced support for the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where defendants are treated as victims, and cases are often dismissed after sex workers attend counseling sessions.

Lasak says he has “no problem decriminalizing” sex work, but is concerned about quality of life complaints regarding street prostitution.

Lugo says she would “seriously, seriously consider decriminalizing” sex work, and support diversion courts like the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court.

Malik would decline to prosecute sex workers, but would prosecute customers and promoters on a case-by-case basis in cases deemed “coercive and predatory.”

Nieves supports the full decriminalization of sex work and would decline to prosecute sex workers. He would set up a dedicated human trafficking unit in the office.

On tenant harassment:

Cabán would start investigations based on the New York City public advocate’s Landlord Watchlist. She says she would work on repairing trust with tenants so they cooperate with prosecution.

Katz would create a bureau of housing fraud to go after predatory lenders and bad landlords.

Lasak's office’s economic crimes bureau would handle cases. Representatives would go to tenant organizations and listen to their problems, then prosecute if their were crimes committed.

Lugo would create a database to track landlords with accusations of tenant harassment and exchange information with city and federal authorities.

Malik's office would pay attention to housing stability, standing up to abusive landlords and real estate scammers.

Nieves economic crimes bureau would focus on prosecuting corporate developers and large landlords engaged in harrassment. He would train investigators and focus on partnering with other offices like the state attorney general and the New York City Department of Investigation.

On accepting money from corporate PACs:

Cabán said she does not, and that accepting such donations “should be a disqualifying factor for your consideration in this race.”

Katz said she does, and that “any district attorney should be able to show that they are independent no matter where they get their money from.”

Lasak said he has not accepted such contributions, but did not comment on whether he would if offered.

Lugo says she hasn’t gotten any such money and would only accept political action campaign donations from labor unions or public interest PACs.

Malik said she has not accepted such contributions, but did not comment on whether she would if offered.

Nieves said he does not accept any money from developers or corporations.

On reviewing sentences for prisoners over age 30:

Caban says there’s no correlation between length of sentences and recidivism rates, so she wants to bring prisoners back to their communities as long as they don’t pose a threat.

Katz has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Lasak says he would review cases if asked by a defendant.

Lugo would review such cases and set up a unit involving members of the community and faith-based communities to decide whether shorter sentences are deserved.

Malik is open to sentencing reviews, “particularly for low-level and first-time offenders who do not represent a public safety risk.”

Nieves would look at the circumstances behind crimes, but also the impact of the crime on the community.

On creating a conviction review unit:

Cabán would create such a unit to review potential cases of innocence, as well as cases with potential due process violations or excessive sentencing.

Katz would create an independent unit to review past convictions.

Lasak would create such a unit to review past convictions and personally oversee it.

Lugo would create such a unit within her office to review past convictions.

Malik would create such a unit within her office to review potential cases of innocence, as well as miscarriages of justice.

Nieves would create a unit to review past convictions and organize an advisory board to oversee it.

On the District Attorney Association of the State of New York:

Cabán says she would leave the group immediately, because “these associations tend to have regressive, racist, and classist ‘tough on crime’ mentalities.”

Katz would remain in the DAASNY but would enact policy “based 100% on what I believe works best for the people of Queens.”

Lasak says he would remain a member of DAASNY, even though he does not agree with many positions the association takes, in order to change it from the inside.

Lugo would join the association, though she disagrees with the group’s stance on discovery reform.

Malik says if she were to join the association, it would be to “band together with other reform-minded DAs to change the culture.”

Nieves would join the association and advocate for progressive ideals among the membership.

PLEASE VOTE ON JUNE 25, 2019

IT IS YOUR CIVIC DUTY!

Sources:

Where the Queens DA Candidates Stand on the Issues (May 6, 2019)

The Endorsements for Queens District Attorney (June 17, 2019)

Know Your Vote: News from the Queens District Attorney Primary Election, June 25, 2019 (June 5, 2019)

Queens Bar Rates five "qualified" Candidates for Queens DA (May 30, 2019)

What You Need to Know About Each Queens DA Candidate (June 16, 2019)

Upcoming Elections: What's On the June 25 Ballot in New York City (June 6, 2019)

Should A Top Prosecutor Have Prior Prosecutorial Experience? 'Qualifications' Debate Rages in Queens District Attorney Race (June 7, 2019)

With A Tough-On-Crime DA Stepping Down, Will Queens Turn to A Reformer? (January 9, 2019)

Campaign Ads: Queens District Attorney Candidates Provide Video Evidence (May 23, 2019)

Automatic Voter Registration Bill Will Move on Wednesday (June 19, 2019)

Race for Queens District Attorney, NY1

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