Daily News: Defense Lawyers Clash with Prosecutors at City Council Hearing
MONDAY, MARCH 05, 2018

Tina Luongo, LAS Criminal Defense Practice Chief, testified at a recent City Council oversight hearing on local DAs’ restrictive discovery practices that impede due process and fairness.

NY Daily News
Defense lawyers clash with prosecutors at city council hearing
By Shayna Jacobs
February 27, 2018

Criminal cases are horribly skewed toward prosecutors who withhold key information until the last minute, leaving people in the dark to plea bargain their case, defense lawyers claimed Tuesday during a city council hearing.

“Every single day public defenders have to say we don't have (evidence) but they've offered you a deal,” leading Legal Aid lawyer Tina Luongo said.

Defense attorneys, Luongo said, are left empty-handed when discussing the cases against their clients.

“How is a public defender supposed to investigate?" Luongo said. “How am I supposed to check for conflicts of interest?”

She said that when she worked in Manhattan she had to recuse herself from cases before the start of a hearing over conflicts of interest — further delaying proceedings.

The new lawyer claims she “had to start from scratch.”

But the city’s top prosecutors, who also testified, said the defense lawyers are full of it.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s top deputy Karen Friedman-Agnifilo told the council panel that in 2015 her office told assistant district attorneys to hand over everything except for items they believe would compromise witness safety and privacy.

“I think perhaps the people who are testifying here aren't aware of what's happening in the courtroom,” Friedman-Agnifilo told Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), who heads the Committee on the Justice System.

The main point of contention centered on defense access to witness names and information — including alleged victims — which advocates for the accused say is necessary, but prosecutors call a safety threat.

The five district attorneys' offices insist strides have been made toward openness beyond the minimum required under the current law, which generally gives prosecutors until the eve of trial to hand over the bulk of documents.

“At the end of the day, what they really want is this 10% of the information,” Friedman-Agnifilo said. “That's what they really want — it's the thing that we're struggling with whether or not to give over in order to protect witness safety.”

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office is recognized in the justice community for its long standing “open-file” discovery policy while the other offices are often criticized for having less cooperative standards.

Paul Capofari, Staten Island's chief assistant district attorney, announced an “early action” discovery plan, modeled after Brooklyn's procedures.

“Within 21 days of the arraignment, we'll turn over the police reports and police statements, search warrants,” he said. “Redacted for witness safety.”

Lancman’s Committee on the Justice System will evaluate the testimony and is considering taking action, but will likely await the results of pending possibilities in Albany.

Gov. Cuomo made discovery and bail reform part of his 2018 budget agenda.

This article originally appeared in NY Daily News.