Cusick (far left) District Attorney David Soares (far
fight) at debate at Albany Law.
at Albany Law
for Albany County district attorney debate in the wake of
the release of another audit
comptroller,” said David Soares on Tuesday night at Albany
Law School during a heated debate, crystallizing his regard
for his opponent Roger Cusick and the recent audits completed
by Albany County comptroller Mike Conners in two simple words.
Speaking to Cusick, Soares repeated the phrase, “your comptroller,”
throughout the night, implying that Conners and his audit
were somehow a product of, or in allegiance to, Cusick.
Conners has stood firm that his audit was not politically
motivated, citing difficulty working with Soares’ office as
the reason the audit fell around election time. Cusick has
fervently denied having any relationship with Conners and
Cusick told Metroland that he was struck by Soares’
reaction to the audit during the debate. “I thought he might
say, ‘Well this was an oversight, and it won’t happen again.’
Instead what I saw was a certain amount of smugness and, ‘I
have the perfect right to do this.’ I found that to be troublesome.”
At a press conference Monday, Conners said he had been warned
not to “characterize” much to do with the audit. However,
he insisted that thousands of dollars had been “stolen” from
Soares’ evidence safe and that Soares misspent forfeiture
funds on everything from office pizza parties to equipment
for neighborhood-watch groups and anti- violence programs
for local teens.
Soares’ office released a response to Conners’ audit on Monday
that claimed that money from the safe had been counted three
times—once by the state comptroller; and twice by the county
comptroller—and that each time different counts had been reached.
Soares pledged to hire a forensic auditor to ascertain exactly
how much money should be in the safe.
Soares’ response painted Conners’ take on his use of forfeiture
funds as biased. The response pointed out that Anthony Pasciuto,
a criminal forfeiture expert, found in an audit done by the
city comptroller of the Albany City Police in 2004 that their
use of forfeiture funds for activities such as crime-watch
groups was appropriate.
Pasciuto represented the police at the time. Hired by Conners
for his audit into the district attorney’s office, Pasciuto
has taken a different stand, saying those programs are not
to be paid for with forfeiture funds.
During the debate, Cusick hammered away at Soares, bringing
up Conners’ audit as well as numbers of his own, numbers he
said show that 322 felons were released from Albany County
Jail while waiting to be indicted while Soares was district
Soares’ office responded early on Tuesday, pointing out there
had been 548 releases under former district attorney Paul
Clyne during the four years of his term, and questioning Cusick’s
understanding of the process by which defendants attain release
me explain to Mr. Cusick how the criminal justice system works,”
read Soares’ statement. “Sometimes, to secure the best result
for the people in their jurisdiction, district attorneys make
a procedural choice that results in defendants securing release
Soares went on to describe the useful circumstances when a
district attorney might allow a defendant to be released in
such a manner. Those circumstances, Soares said, happen when
trying to protect confidential informants, when facilitating
access to drug-rehab programs, and when transferring defendants
to another jurisdiction.
Cusick described Soares as preoccupied with lobbying on legislative
issues and constantly out of the office, traveling to different
states to speak out about the Rockefeller drug laws.
Soares said he had been asked to speak in states around the
country about his office’s success using alternatives to prosecution
and community-based initiatives.
Cusick insisted that such issues were legislative and repeatedly
said he would leave alternatives to prosecution and sentencing
to “brighter minds than my own.”
When Cusick attacked Soares for his conviction rates being
down, Soares replied that there is a “20-year low in crime
in Albany County” and repeated the mantra that “crime is down.”
Cusick countered that residents of streets in neighborhoods
in the city of Albany would tell you that crime isn’t down.
Soares replied calmly, “What streets would those be, sir?
Do you know them?”
Both candidates were asked what they felt the district attorney’s
office’s role should be in the lives of youths in the county.
Soares spoke of his Bring it to the Courts Program and the
Enough anti-violence/gang initiative.
Cusick responded that as district attorney he would not fund
such programs, citing the Conners audit.
Soares indicated he would fund the programs through asset
forfeitures, despite what the comptroller’s audit said.
Cusick said that the Conners audit shows Soares wrote himself
a $1,000 check from the forfeiture funds and repaid only a
portion of the money. Cusick repeatedly referred to Soares’
office’s forfeiture funds as “a slush fund.”
Soares ignored that specific allegation and characterized
the timing and findings of Conners’ audit as “suspect.”
Cusick spent most of his time on the attack, hurling accusations
at Soares, and not offering his own plans for the office,
besides saying he wanted to return to a straightforward prosecutorial
At one point, Cusick said that he would become involved in
an anti-gun violence program called “Project Exile,” that
requires minimum sentencing for those using firearms in pursuit
of a crime. Soares told Cusick and the audience that his office
is already involved in the program.
When the moderator asked a question from the audience about
what the candidates could do about a rash of bike thefts in
the community, both candidates smiled and chuckled.
Cusick said that basically it was a “police issue” that the
district attorney would not be involved in, and joked that
he might tell the person who asked the question that he would
get involved “for a vote, maybe.”
Soares said that students should put their bikes in the most
visible place on campus. He went on to say that perhaps “there
is something we could do through asset forfeiture that could
be used in a crime-prevention strategy.”
Common Council throws its support behind the fight for a state-funded
The Albany Common Council voted unanimously on Monday night
to encourage New York state to create a state-funded, statewide
public-defender commission. In 2006, a study by Chief Judge
Judith S. Kaye’s commission on the Future of Indigent Defense
Services recommended a state takeover and overhaul of its
system. Since then, activists and lawyers around the state
have pushed to make the state act to fund the public-defense
system that critics say has left defendants poorly represented—and
in some cases, unfairly jailed because of it.
Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3), who introduced the measure,
said he was struck by the importance of the proposal while
speaking to former state assemblyman and current U.S. congressional
candidate Paul Tonko during a meet-the-candidates event. Ellis
said it was serendipity that at the same event he ran into
a representative of the Campaign for an Independent Public
reached out to my fellow council members and to the public
defender’s office,” said Ellis, “and everyone was in agreement.
A state commission would be a plus—it would provide much needed
resources to public defenders who are overworked. It was simply
Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the Campaign for an
Independent Public Defense Commission, said he feels the time
is right to see the state create a public-defense commission.
He noted that cities around the state have passed measures
similar to Albany’s in support of the idea. “All politics
is local, and the reality is, politicians believe in this
idea,” Gradess said. “The major concern is about cost. County
officials don’t want to get left in the dust, but if the state
steps up to the plate, there is very strong county support.”
Gradess said that during a time of financial woe the statewide
commission is something the state can’t afford not to do,
especially because of the cost of incarceration.
45 years of neglect, this dialogue about the public-defender
system now takes place in the middle of the recession,” said
Gradess. “We have a real way for the state to find a way to
save money and have skilled, capable, resourced public defenders
who will begin to put a valve on sending everyone to prison.”
proposes teen curfew that critics call dangerous, unfair and
Elizabeth Alexander, a resident of Second Street and Lexington
Avenue in Albany, described to the Albany Common Council on
Monday night how she has to beg and pester the group of teens
who sit on her stoop during the day “gambling and cursing”
to move to let her 11-year-old daughter into her house. “They
vandalized my car because I asked them to move,” Alexander
told the council. She now has to pay a deductible she can’t
afford in order to fix her car.
took the parent out of parenthood, and all that is left is
the hood,” said Alexander, who explained that while she supports
a youth curfew proposed by Councilman Glen Casey (Ward 11)
that would require youths younger than 17 to be inside after
11 PM, she wonders if it will do any good to help with the
teens who harass her during the day.
Marlon Anderson told the council that he had proposed the
idea of a curfew earlier in the year but stood against Casey’s
proposal because he felt it was hastily assembled without
the input of the communities it would most affect, and that
it will “take a bad situation and make it worse.” Anderson
went on to say that while he felt the youth of the city had
“earned a curfew,” he worried a curfew would “fast-track the
youth into the court system.”
Anderson’s concerns were echoed by councilmen Corey Ellis
(Ward 3) and Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1). “I am not in favor
of it because it gives the police department a legal way to
further unpleasant contact with our teenage population,” said
Ellis. “I am disappointed Councilman Casey didn’t reach out
to council members whose district will most likely be targeted
by the curfew. According to data on other curfews implemented
in other cities, 67 percent of the youth brought in by the
curfew were from minority districts.”
Under the terms of the proposed curfew, parents whose underage
children are caught out past 11 PM on weekdays and midnight
on weekends could be fined up to $500.
Casey did not return calls for comment.
Alex Forster of the New York Civil Liberties Union voiced
his organization’s opposition to the proposed curfew on Monday
Ellis said he is also concerned that Casey did not consider
the full ramifications and financial requirements a curfew
would entail. “I want to know, where did he get the notion
to introduce this? He obviously didn’t talk to any council
members, and knowing that . . . it looks to me like political
grandstanding. A curfew will get a lot of media coverage,
but the real question is: How are you going to pay for it?”
Besides how to pay for it, Ellis and Calsolaro wonder if the
already taxed police force has time to “babysit.”
Calsolaro said he has been told by officers that they think
the curfew will interfere with their work.
Glen was really serious about this,” said Calsolaro, “he would
have introduced this months ago in time to put it into the
budget. I don’t know if Glen is really trying to do it—he
has been throwing out a lot of things lately.”
Casey recently introduced anti-gang legislation that was panned
by other council members as poorly and hastily conceived,
as it failed to take into account the fact that the Common
Council does not have purview over state criminal law.
Council members also openly wondered why Casey has proposed
the curfew now, since the gun-violence task force—which has
been considering the notion of curfews—is likely to present
its recommendations in the coming weeks.
Calsolaro said he has heard talk about how well Rochester’s
youth curfew has worked in curbing crime. But, he pointed
out, “Rochester put a load of cops on the street last year,
walking beats. They had 30 to 40 officers walking the beat
in high-impact areas. And at the same time, they initiated
And, Calsolaro points out, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings’ current
budget proposal phases out 10 currently unfilled police positions.
Jennings recently told the Times Union that while he
would consider Casey’s proposal, “There are pros and cons
to curfews. I don’t want to penalize good young people.” Casey’s
proposal is now pending before the public-safety committee.
loose ends this week-