By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
After almost thirty years in office, Queens District Attorney (DA) Richard Brown will be stepping down. Since Brown’s announcement a few months ago, many Democrats have thrown their names in the ring to replace him, all pushing for progressive reforms to the criminal justice system. The election for Queens DA will be held on Tuesday, June 25.
Asian Pacific Americans Voting & Organizing to Increase Civic Engagement (APA VOICE) with 21 other community organizations, are hosting a candidate forum on April 30th at Bellozino Party Hall in Jackson Heights. Partnering organizations include Caribbean Equality Project, Chhaya CDC, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Jahajee Sisters, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, Shetu, and South Asian Council on Social Services. All seven candidates have confirmed they will be there.
What is the role of the Queens DA’s office? The office investigates and prosecutes individuals alleged to have committed a crime in Queens. There are approximately 70,000 cases filed each year. Among them, there are major crimes such as homicides (murder), organized crime such as drug-trafficking, white collar crimes and economic crimes such as credit card fraud, counter terrorism, low-level assaults and harassment, domestic violence, and special victims which includes hate crimes, sex crimes, child abuse and elder abuse.
Why does the Queens DA’s office matter to South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans? It’s acutely important for voters to make an informed decision about who will be the best choice for themselves and their families. If history is any indicator, whoever is elected the next Queens DA could be there for decades. Attending the forum hosted by APA Voice will help Queens residents, including those in our community, educate themselves on who can protect them on matters that directly impact us. These include hate crimes, racial profiling, unfair collaboration with ICE, and crimes in general. Even for those who are unable to vote, it’s likely that these individuals know people who can vote. Everyone has a role to play in educating voters of the upcoming Queens DA race.
The Queens DA’s office offers various services and programs including the Crime Victims Advocacy Program (providing emotional and practical support through dealings with the criminal justice system), and the Office of Immigrant Affairs(addresses the unique concerns of immigrants and new Americans as they navigate the legal system). The Queens DA’s office works on crime prevention, raises educational awareness through community forums, offers summer youth internships, and other opportunities for young people to be productive.
The Queen’s DA’s office has a plethora of employment and civic opportunities. The office hires approximately 300 Assistant District Attorneys (prosecutors) and 300 investigators, accountants, parole officers, guards, clerks, and support personnel. The office also has “Advisory Councils”, which serve on a volunteer-basis and reflect Queens’ diverse population.
Who are the candidates for Queens DA? The seven candidates in the race for Queens DA are:
Tiffany Caban is a career public defender, now in her 8th year. Born in Queens, she has worked for New York County Defender Services and Legal Aid Society. Caban volunteers with NYCDS’ Community Outreach Committee and facilitates community-based Know Your Rights training.
Melinda Katz is the Queens Borough President. A lawyer, she is a former Assemblywoman and City Council member. She is educating the community on a new law that allows people with 2 misdemeanors or a felony and a misdemeanor over 10 years old to seal their records.
Rory Lancman is the City Council Member for District 24 in Queens. An attorney, Lancman is a former Assemblyman and currently chairs the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System which oversees the DA’s in all five boroughs and public defender organizations.
Gregory Lasak is a retired New York Supreme Court Justice of District 11 where he served for 14 years. Prior to serving as a judge, Mr. Lasak was a prosecutor in the Queens DA’s Office, promoted to the Chief of the Homicide Bureau and Executive Assistant to Major Crimes Unit.
Betty Lugo is a founding member of Pacheco & Lugo, PLLC, the first Hispanic women-owned law firm in New York. A Queens native, Lugo is a former Nassau County prosecutor and is Vice-Chairwoman of the State Bar Association of Trial Lawyers.
Mina Malik is a former prosecutor with the Queens DA, former head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and criminal investigator with the D.C. Public Defender Service. Malik is currently a lecturer on Law and Senior Advisor to Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project.
Jose Nieves is a career prosecutor, first with the Kings County DA’s Office, then with the NY State Attorney General prosecuting officers charged with an unarmed civilian’s death. A U.S. Army Reserves Captain for over 10 years, he was deployed to Afghanistan for one year in 2009.
Hear from the candidates themselves! Attend the candidate forum on April 30th from 6:45 pm – 9:00 pm at Bellozino Party Hall located at 72-11 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens. The event is free. Simultaneous translation will be provided in Hindi and Urdu. To go via public transportation, take the E/F/M/R train to Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights or the 7 Train to 74th Street.