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A New Contender

With Albany County D.A. David Soares in the national spotlight, Lee Kindlon announces he will challenge for his seat

by Cecelia Martinez on December 8, 2011

Albany defense attorney Lee Kindlon officially announced his candidacy for Albany County district attorney last week, kicking off a campaign that sets its sights squarely on current D.A. David Soares and an office that Kindlon calls “a group without a leader.” Kindlon, a 35-year-old former Marine Corps prosecutor who now works with his father, noted defense attorney Terence L. Kindlon, at Kindlon Shanks and Associates, said he felt primarying Soares was the only way to effect the changes he wanted to see in Albany’s legal system.

“I really enjoy being a defense attorney, but going through one case after another I started to realize that the sense of justice that I was brought up to believe in and what I learned about in law school and tried to implement in the Marine Corps, I never saw in practice around here,” said Kindlon. “It became abundantly clear that the D.A.’s office was a group without a leader, an orchestra without a leader. That’s what lead me to decide to run.”

Kindlon said that he, along with many in the legal community, supported Soares in 2004 when he beat out incumbent Democrat Paul Clyne for the office. “We said, ‘OK, this man has ideals,’” said Kindlon. “The problem is, there is no practice of [those ideals].”

Kindlon began practicing law in New York state in 2002 and, after returning from Iraq in 2006, he joined the family firm as a trial attorney. Kindlon said one of the galvanizing moments for him in his decision to run for office was the trial of Rashad Nicholson, who was accused of murder and attempted murder in 2010. In that case, the charges were ultimately dismissed before trial, after Kindlon argued that the prosecution failed for 14 months to turn over evidence exonerating Nicholson.

“That was really one of those moments . . . if this is what is happening on the cases I’ve seen, what is happening on the thousands of others?” he said. “When you see first hand that none of these policies are going on, that’s a very frustrating thing to see on a daily basis.”

Kindlon’s announcement comes on the heels of Soares’ decision to not prosecute protesters arrested by New York State Police as part of the Occupy Albany protests. Soares has been a champion of the movement, and while he has received both praise and criticism for the decision, it has raised his profile considerably in the past few months both locally and across the state.

At a press conference on Dec. 1, Kindlon said he would like to see the arrested protesters go to trial, but expanded on that in a phone interview Wednesday.

“I don’t believe that the cases should just be declined in prosecution, I think that’s unfair,” said Kindlon. “I think that for a lot of the other people who are charged with similar crimes, they’re scratching their heads and going ‘Wait a minute, why did you elect to prosecute my case, and is there some sort of special deal going on?’ It eliminates a fundamental fairness of our justice system, in that everyone gets their case before a court and it gets decided.”

Soares, whose decision not to prosecute has gained him considerable respect among civil-liberties advocates in Albany and beyond, has defended his stance based on the fact that the Albany protesters have been nonviolent, have not caused property damage, and were not restricted from being in the city-owned Academy Park. Arrests were made only when some of them moved over to the adjacent state-owned park, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo had declared a curfew.

Kindlon said that he works with an attorney involved with the Occupy Albany protest, and that he doesn’t disagree with how the cases should be adjudicated, but that the purpose of litigation is for the court to make a decision—is the curfew valid or not valid; is this protected speech or not protected speech?

“When you have an individual saying they’re not going to prosecute, you don’t allow for the issue to ripen,” he said. “You have to think three or four steps down the road, and I don’t think that’s what was happening. I think it was a politically advantageous decision for him.”

Kindlon also commented on Soares’ predecessor, Clyne, who took a decidedly tougher approach to prosecution before being ousted in 2004.

“ I think that, going back to the election, I think that David was able to capture a sense that harsh punishments aren’t necessarily the answer every time,” he said. “I really credit Mr. Clyne in that he got a lot of bad guys off the street, and I think that there is a comfortable middle ground.”

Kindlon himself is currently preparing himself for the world of Albany politics, one he describes as like “the bracing wind when you step outside in February.”

If Lee Kindlon is elected, he said his father will no longer practice law in Albany County.