Westchester County District Attorney questions her “future ability” to enforce the law in New Rochelle
NEW ROCHELLE, NY — August 12, 2022 — Before being identified in 2020, as ground-zero, later resulting in the deployment of the National Guard to one of the early epicenters for the Covid-19 pandemic, New Rochelle was hardly on the national stage being mentioned daily in press briefings and even international news. Fear of traversing New Rochelle among outsiders became heightened due to the relative unknowns of Covid-19, and soon fear began to morph into stigma, resulting in even noticeable interruptions and complaints of avoidance in some deliveries of basic goods and services, to a one-mile containment zone in New Rochelle. The Covid-19 cases in New Rochelle was described by then Gov. Cuomo as a phenomenon in his justification to send in the guards. City leaders and New Rochelle’s Mayor Noam Bramson communicated through several virtual venues, messages encouraging calm, non-judgmental response, collective resilience, and neighborliness, among reassurances that New Rochelle, its residents, and its leadership would weather the storm and its aftermath, together.
It is through times like this, that the social fabric and collective efficacy of any community is tested. New Rochelle is emerging as strong as ever in economic development projects since the pandemic, and like all communities, now memorializing the passing of loved ones, is becoming more aware of its role in global post-pandemic reordering. Some of the city’s tactical response measures to Covid-19 in the early stages, did bring some discontent and feelings of division and targeted isolation among residents, and it appeared communication and thoughtful rethinking in the interest of the community allowed for a timely and appropriate revisiting of those measures.
In uncertain times, communities must be assured that their shared values, expectations and hope are in sync with those they elect to lead.
New Rochelle is again in the throes of uncertain times, and in the headlines again, awaiting two major decisions via the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.
There is another pandemic, one of national and statewide disorder and crime, and like Covid-19, isolation and containment zones will not suffice for the socially porous enclaves within Westchester County, not yet designated as hot spots. For the less reported-on communities, there is a proliferation of deaths and overdoses linked to synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, and as is inevitable wherever there are illegal drugs and illegal marketing of prescription drugs, other elements of criminality become pervasive. So dismissing any ideas of zones of suburbial containment, and relying sparingly on reactive measures such as emergency antagonists like Narcan, the only workable solutions may be a coordinated victim-centered approach, a united front in the application of the law among the purveyors of justice against criminals, and proactive and sustained restoration of our social infrastructure, beyond aimless and election-induced spending of millions of dollars for restorative justice programs having inadequate oversight or inadequate measurable outcomes, and which are devoid of accountability for recidivistic and wanton criminal behavior.
Can New Rochelle be reassured that crime will be effectively addressed if the prosecuting body under which the city falls, expresses uncertainty in its “future ability” to enforce the law in New Rochelle?
This time around, we may not be able to hear Bramson’s reassurance on this broader issue of unease overshadowing the community, as it may be a conflict of interest given that he is awaiting the fate of the Westchester County District Attorney’s office, also central to this developing concern.
The Westchester County District Attorney’s office is currently reviewing allegations as to whether New Rochelle’s mayor criminally violated the City Charter in his bid to secure the job of Commissioner of Economic Development. The residents can only hold onto hope hinged on his years of untarnished and responsive leadership, that his actions under investigation, are not determined to have risen above a non-criminal threshold, and that he does not suffer a fate of unduly dispensable cancellation without the weighing of thoughtful mitigating factors, such as his contribution to public service evidenced by his repeated success at being chosen by the residents to serve the community. For this case, which has propelled New Rochelle to the headlines, the court’s decision upon being respected will beckon support either for leniency or lack thereof for severity. His record speaks to the former.
It is noteworthy that the idea for him exploring this position, reportedly, came about when City Manager, Strome encouraged him “to take a ‘serious’ look at holding the job, after the first search for commissioner failed.” This was confirmed by Strome to have occurred over a year ago. This and the attending details leading to the criminal probe are reported in Lohud, by David Propper.
For Bramson to have acted subsequently, and not as he was immediately nudged, whether due to assessing his personal readiness or by ushering New Rochelle through a period of post-pandemic uncertainty, speaks volumes to his commitment to selflessly serving the city in his present elected position. Strome knew his qualifications and his record then, (provided they have not diminished over time), hence the reported prod of confidence. The inquiries, consultations and ethical findings detailed in emails and reports as to whether the decision was right for Strome to appoint Bramson, constitute exactly how we need to see oversight bodies and ethics in public service operate. Strome’s email to Bramson (in above link), acknowledged that he was aware Bramson would have been disappointed in the final decision. Whatever initially brought on this awareness, should have also behooved him to formerly convene the necessary stakeholders along with Bramson, to put an end to all future exploration by Bramson for this new job, which he admitted informally started with him.
The broader issue of unease related to the enforcement of the law, is that New Rochelle has become the first jurisdiction (regrettably) within Westchester County to be the epicenter of a legal battle, reported on by Robert Cox, Talk of the Sound, between Westchester County District Attorney, Mimi Rocah and Judge Mathew Costa, resulting in the DA questioning her “future ability” to enforce the law in New Rochelle, and which has led the District Attorney to haul the Judge before the Supreme Court.
New Rochelle falls within New York’s 9th Judicial District and has three sitting judges, charged with adjudicating criminal cases prosecuted by the office of the Westchester County District Attorney.
The battle has emerged on the heels of the highly publicized court case involving New Rochelle Police Officer Michael Vaccaro in which Judge Costa returned an unfavorable verdict to the prosecution. The actual case was briefly diverted due to a social media misunderstanding between the Judge and the DA. However, the DA’s office contends (as reported by Cox), that the outcome of this case has no bearing on the decision to bring Judge Costa to the Supreme Court forthwith. Having to denounce this piece of contextual information could potentially help to strengthen its biasing effect. Nonetheless, we disregard and proceed to strike.
The two cases at the center of the Supreme Court reprimand of Judge Costa and the description of his actions with regards to those cases are detailed and quoted in Cox’s above linked article as an “improper arrogation of power,” as described by the district attorney.
Regardless of the legal outcome, the residents of New Rochelle and those who seek relief before the court in New Rochelle, must be reassured that both parties will respect the decision of the Supreme Court and that they will be able to co-exist and operate according to the law, in the interest of the people. This will be a hard sell since it became necessary in the first place to seek redress through the Supreme Court. The trust and respect for the criminal justice process will always come into question when cases are adjudicated by Judge Costa, and by extension by the other New Rochelle Judges, since it will never truly be known if a decision is fear-based or objectively determined. There are broader implications too, for other Westchester jurisdictions. It is an uncertainty that no community will ever fully be comfortable with when liberty and constitutional rights are at stake. The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision also have the potential of bringing into question and under scrutiny, both past and future decisions of Judge Costa. It has the potential of bringing new meaning and boundaries to the criminal justice process as being an adversarial one.
New Rochelle awaits the decision of the Supreme Court, and residents also await reassurance from their elected District Attorney when confidence in her office’s ability to enforce the law in New Rochelle has been restored, under her leadership. New Rochelle stands eager to resume the reassurances of stability in government, and the preparedness for all possible social inevitabilities.
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