Posted: October 11th, 2016 | By: Alan Feuer
Professor Ron Wright is quoted in the following New York Times story, “Despite Ken Thompson’s Short Stint as Brooklyn Prosecutor, Agenda May Endure,” written by Alan Feuer and published on Oct. 10, 2016.
In New York politics, the city’s district attorneys have long been the edifices of elective office: legal lions presiding for years — often decades — over courthouse fiefs beyond the influence even of City Hall.
Robert M. Morgenthau, Manhattan’s district attorney from 1975 to 2009, was the classic example, his tenure spanning the terms of five mayors and his imprint on New York so lasting that for some residents, the letters “D.A.” still call to mind an image of his face. But there have, of course, been others: Charles J. Hynes spent 23 years as Brooklyn’s district attorney. Robert T. Johnson served 26 years as the district attorney in the Bronx. And Richard A. Brown, the last remaining fixture of the old guard, is now in his 25th year as the top prosecutor in Queens.
With his death on Sunday from cancer, Ken Thompson, a Democrat who was until this weekend Brooklyn’s district attorney, will never achieve the longevity of some who have held the same position. And though he was in the job for only three years, his agenda — a more selective, less reflexively law-and-order approach to prosecution — may endure.
While it is impossible to predict his legacy, Mr. Thompson, 50, took office at an opportune time in the consciousness of the city and the country. His pledge to restore a sense of racial justice to his constituents in Brooklyn came at a time of heightened tension between law enforcement officers and minority communities. And he arrived in the district attorney’s office amid slow but steady change in how prosecutors across the country view their role in the criminal justice system — a shift that Mr. Thompson both embraced and advanced.
“Many prosecutors — Thompson, among them — have recognized that they need to pick more carefully the cases where they use the full force of the state,” Ronald Wright, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law, said. “They’re beginning to treat the big cases like they’re big cases, but the small cases like they’re small cases.”