The most outrageous parts of a story are the parts that don’t even attract attention

Jul 3 '11

Sometimes the most interesting parts of a news story are the outrageous bits that people just accept without even noticing the problem.

This came up in a news story today by Alan Feuer, John Eligon, and William Rashbaum, about the hapless Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who in the space of a few headline-filled weeks failed to convict the “rape cop” and then tried unsuccessfully to nail the former IMF head based on the testimony of an unreliable witness.

Here’s something that caught my attention but seemed to pass unremarked in the news article:

Mr. Vance’s supporters attribute the criticism of his tenure to people who are unsettled by his efforts to reinvigorate and modernize an office that his supporters say had stagnated under Mr. Morgenthau. They pointed out that only after Mr. Vance became district attorney were prosecutors given smartphones.

Huh? What’s the deal? No smartphones, no convictions? Seems a bit of a stretch to me. If that’s the best his defenders can do, that’s pretty lame.

And then I saw this:

Even a member of the finance committee for Mr. Vance’s 2009 campaign, Gerald L. Shargel, a Manhattan defense lawyer, questioned how the case had been handled.

Ummmmm, wait a minute. Gerald Shargel . . . where have I heard this name before? Here’s Wikipedia: “In a subsequent 1991 federal case against Gotti, Judge I. Leo Glasser barred Shargel and Cutler from representing Gotti, agreeing with prosecutors’ assertion that the lawyers were “house counsel” to the Gambino Crime Family . . .”

There’s no law against the house counsel to the Gambino Crime Family giving campaign contributions, but doesn’t it seem a bit odd for him to be a member of the finance committee for the Manhattan D.A.’s election campaign? What’s going on here??

Finally, there was this bit:

Mr. Vance, 57, who is married with two children in college, came into office with high expectations. He had a famous name — his father was secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter — and the support of the city’s political establishment.

Having a famous dad gives you “high expectations”? I’d think it would be the opposite. Conditional on having a famous name, my guess would be that he has less talent. Although I suppose the questions really aren’t about his talent so much as his judgment.

It says in the article that Vance is running for reelection in 2013. My plan right now is to vote against any D.A. candidates who have mob lawyers on their finance committee.

P.S. Maybe I was too quick to rely on Wikipedia and my vague memories of decades-old newspaper headlines. Maria Rosales writes:

A good friend of mine, who is a well-known and respected lawyer, says that you are mistaken about Shargel–that, in fact the Court of Appeals overturned the disqualification of Shargel (United States v. Locasio, 6 F.3d 924 (CA2 1993)) and that the allegations were prosecutorial misconduct. Even in the first case, before the appeal, it isn’t Shargel that the judge referred to as “house counsel” but his co-defendant on appeal, Bruce Cutler.

My friend says “Gerald Shargel’s professional record is spotless, to the best of my knowledge.”

Fair enough. I’m still not happy with a defense lawyer funding a D.A. campaign. Seems like a conflict of interest to me. But maybe no more of a conflict of interest than a lot of other campaign funding.