Alan Chartock: I Publius
District Attorney Andrea Harrington is going through a learning experience. Her job is to be the prosecutor. For the most part, she has run a professional and well-organized district attorney’s office. She works hard but like the rest of us, she makes occasional mistakes. Right now she is facing criticism from some in the local press.
The issue is that one of her top assistants has resigned because Harrington refused to release files that dealt with what may be a false report from one student at Simon’s Rock College about being physically attacked by another student. This is not the first time we have seen this kind of thing. It happened in Albany when two black students claimed that they had been attacked on a bus. That turned out not to be true. Then there was the Tawana Brawley incident in the Hudson Valley in which Brawley, also black, said that she had been attacked. That incident turned out to be unsubstantiated, too. There are always repercussions when false reports are filed. Simon’s Rock suffered an unfair hit. In other cases, people’s reputations were hurt, sometimes irreparably.
Harrington ran for DA on a liberal plank. She demanded a fair and balanced criminal justice system that would not treat people of color as second-class citizens. I get and respect that. But this is different. False reporting of a crime is a crime. If a newspaper asks for information, they should get it.
The Albany County DA is David Soares, whom I greatly respect. He appears regularly on WAMC and I proudly consider him a friend. He has the guts to do the right thing. He is black and he is an unreconstructed liberal. When he talks about Donald Trump and the damage that Trump is doing to the country, you hear the honest passion of a man on fire. But in his job as DA, he follows the facts. He is unafraid. He takes on the governor of the state of New York when he has to. He had the guts to call out Cuomo about the new bail reform law, saying it leaves the people, including the victims of crime, in a terrible place. The man knows his job.
Harrington did not run as a public defender. She properly ran for DA. If she reads the papers, she must know that Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA, has been under intense criticism for going soft on Harvey Weinstein. If she goes soft on someone who commits a crime by not following the norms of being DA, she leaves herself in a tough spot when it comes to re-election.
I get where Harrington is coming from. She is committed to social justice. She knows, as we all do, that people of color have been victimized by an unfair criminal justice system that puts a disproportionate number of them in jail.
Now Jeanne Kempthorne, a top assistant to Harrington, has resigned in protest over Harrington’s refusal to provide the press with the facts on the Simon’s Rock case. It is an embarrassment for Harrington and a reminder that sometimes, when a case does not conform to your political views, you have to proceed and to act according to the rules.
I like Andrea Harrington. I respect her values and I know that she is coming from a good place. But now she has to do what’s right. Sometimes that hurts, big time. It is not too late to learn an important lesson about her job. One of the big concerns in the election that she won was whether a liberal could be a good DA, an effective prosecutor. We are about to find out.