Why Should I Care Who the DA Is?

It's another NYC primary post, and while I could research every city council race in the city, I really don't have that kind of time, so this one goes out to my friend's in Brooklyn who are going to be faced with a crowded slate of candidates for District Attorney, may not know which one to pick, and want my personal (non-political, non job related) opinion.

As you may know, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

Wait, sorry, that's the opening to Law and Order, which I've been watching non-stop for 3 months.

My personal favorite ADA, Casey Novak from Law and Order SVU

My personal favorite ADA, Casey Novak from Law and Order SVU

District attorneys represent the state, and enforce the laws passed by the legislature. Unlike in civil court, where both people need to provide their own attorney, someone who is the victim of a crime has their case prosecuted by a district attorney, or an assistant district attorney. For example, if you were hit by a car, an ADA would assist you with filing vehicular assault charges against the person who hit you, and representing you to make sure the person who hit you would be punished for their crime. If you wanted to sue for insurance money, you couldn't use an ADA, since they only work in criminal court, not civil court.

When you elect a DA, you're electing a head prosecutor for your town, or city, or in this case borough. And this head prosecutor can have a lot of power. Someone like former Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson can singlehandedly change how criminal justice is treated in Brooklyn. Back in 2014, Thompson stopped prosecuting people for low-level marijuana offenses, citing the disproportionate number of young black men who end up in prison on non-violent drug charges.

Literally, I've watched 10 seasons of Law and Order SVU in 3 months, someone help me

Literally, I've watched 10 seasons of Law and Order SVU in 3 months, someone help me

DA's have something called "prosecutorial discretion" which means they can decide what charges to bring and how to pursue each case. A good prosecutor can work to balance an unequal justice system, decline to prosecute discriminatory laws, and work to make the criminal justice system more fair.

And Eric Gonzalez is that good prosecutor.

After Ken Thompson died in 2016, he tapped Eric Gonzalez, at the time his chief ADA, to run the District Attorney's office. Since Gonzalez has been running the office, he has continued Thompson's "Begin Again" program, which allows people to clear summons warrants, which if not dealt with, can cause major problems for people down the line. Thus far, Begin Again has helped over 2,000 people clear their warrants.


Gonzalez also works with immigration attorney's to prevent people from being deported following low level offenses and has asked his attorneys to consider whether bail was necessary, concluding that often, cash bail causes more problems than it solves. Gonzalez is reform-minded, experienced and plans to continue the legacy Ken Thompson started.

Granted, those same things can be said of all the other candidates, so why vote for Gonzalez? My personal reasons for voting for him are twofold.

The DA is an office without term limits. Before Ken Thompson's victory in 2014, the same person had held the office since 1989. Once someone gets in, it can be pretty hard to vote them out, so it's pretty good job security. I like Eric Gonzalez because he seems like a man who never wanted to run for any type of office. I think that Gonzalez was perfectly happy being the chief ADA, and now he's found himself in a situation where if he wants to continue doing the work he wants to do, he has to become a politician. I never thought I'd be the type to fall for the "I'm not your average politician" gambit, but here I am.

Secondly, because there are no term limits in the DA's office, there's also a lot of power in the position. Many people running for DA expressed a commitment to criminal justice reform and restorative justice. And that's all fine and good, but it's public defender talk. And I don't mean that as an insult. I love public defenders! I'm related to them! And if these candidates want to be public defenders so much, they should go be them. Because from where I sit, it seems like lots of these candidates just want the power of the DA's office.

Gonzalez is the only candidate I've heard actually discuss prosecution, which is sort of the whole job. At the end of the day, as much as I love public defenders, it seems like only Gonzalez knows the type of temperament to balance the concerns of criminal justice reform with the need to, you know, be the prosecutor for all of Brooklyn. I'll be voting for him on the 12th, and if you like what you've read, you should vote for him too.