In the Lower Hudson Valley, controversial incidents involving district attorneys are not unheard of. Adam Levy, the District Attorney of Putnam County, is currently entangled in a case where he is accused of interfering in a friend’s rape case. However, it is rare in New York state to remove a district attorney from office. Only the governor has the constitutional authority to do so, but this power has been exercised so sparingly that it seems to have not occurred in over a century.
The Power of District Attorneys
District attorneys in New York hold significant discretion, more than any other law enforcement officials. They are practically unaccountable to anyone except the electorate. Once elected, they possess an immense and potentially beneficial or abusive power for the public interest. This power can be utilized in a way that serves the community or misused for personal gain.
Adam Levy’s Case
Adam Levy, the son of TV personality Judge Judy Sheindlin, recused himself from the case involving Alexandru Hossu, an unlawfully residing immigrant from Romania charged with the rape of his former girlfriend’s teenage daughter in October 2010. The Westchester District Attorney’s Office took over the case and obtained an indictment. However, allegations arose when Hossu’s attorney resigned, claiming that Levy had interfered with the case from the beginning. Documents and emails obtained by The Journal News suggest that Levy provided legal advice to defense attorney Robert Altchiler and even requested to review legal papers before they were filed.
As a result, the governor’s office is now considering whether to investigate Levy’s conduct. This investigation will determine if the Putnam prosecutor committed a crime during this incident.
Several other prosecutors in the Lower Hudson Valley have encountered their own unique troubles in the past. For instance, former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro faced scrutiny when it was revealed that she had co-signed fraudulent tax returns, leading to her husband, prominent attorney Albert Pirro, being indicted for tax evasion. Additionally, Pirro was criticized for her handling of a case involving the death of a high school student at an after-school party.
In another case, current Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore was investigated for allegedly receiving public benefits for her live-in nanny. However, a subsequent inquiry cleared her of any wrongdoing.
Former Rockland District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz, on the other hand, faced criminal charges for federal tax evasion and misuse of public funds. Prior to any public discussion of forcibly removing him from office, Gribetz resigned in 1995.
The Law and Removal of District Attorneys
In instances of “misconduct or malversation in office,” district attorneys in New York can be removed from their positions. However, this power has rarely been exercised. The governor must provide the officer with a copy of the charges and an opportunity to defend themselves before taking any action. The only known example of the governor removing a district attorney from office dates back to 1900.
Another authority bestowed upon the governor is the ability to “supersede” a local district attorney by transferring a specific case to the state attorney general. In 1996, Gov. George Pataki invoked this power when he feared that Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson would not pursue the death penalty in a case involving the shooting death of a police officer.
Scrutiny and Compliance
Although a prosecutor convicted of a felony would be required to step down, removing a sitting district attorney is a rare occurrence. This is due, in part, to the fact that district attorneys have dual roles as both elected officials and practicing attorneys, each bound by strict codes of conduct. The legal profession is closely monitored, and attorneys are expected to adhere to the rules and laws. District attorneys, in particular, are under even greater scrutiny.
Adam Levy’s Fate
Adam Levy’s future as the Putnam County District Attorney hinges on the outcome of any potential charges and whether he is found guilty. The severity of the charges will also play a vital role in determining his fate. Ultimately, it will be up to the governor to decide whether Levy remains in his position. Overriding the voters’ decision would prove politically challenging unless Levy is charged with a crime, in which case the governor would be obliged to take action.
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