Be warned this post might be a tad long and high on the emotional cheesiness factor.
On March 5th, Mike Green, my former boss and the former District Attorney of Monroe County will start working for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as its Executive Deputy Director.
You may ask, what does DCJS do? I’m sure lots of important things, but to be honest I never had much interaction with the agency when I was an ADA. I know they are responsible for compiling and distributing criminal record reports of individuals when they are arrested. They also maintain the Sex Offender Registry, DNA databank, and they keep stats on crime-related issues here in the state. Beyond that, I linked their website above so you can check it out for yourself.
How does Mike getting this position make me feel? Let me start by saying this – Mike is supremely qualified – no, overqualified – for whatever job he is going to do at DCJS. Mike was an elite level trial prosecutor. One of the 2 or 3 best I ever saw. And I always admired the fact that even as the DA he still took on high profile trials. Certainly, some were more difficult than others. In the Keon Anderson case for example he had high quality video footage of the defendant committing the convenience store robbery moments before executing one of the store clerks. That kind of evidence tends to make proving your case a tad easier.
But Anderson was a callous cold-blooded killer who had already been found not guilty of one murder. In fact that jury came back with the not guilty verdict on the same Friday night I had a jury out on my first homicide trial as a prosecutor.
But Mike’s cases as the DA weren’t always so strong evidence-wise. And he was still willing to take on the challenge. Case in point was the Tyquan Rivera attempted murder trial in 2009. Rivera as you’ll recall was convicted of the shooting of Officer Tony DiPonzio. This was no slam-dunk case for the prosecution, as there were no reliable eye-witnesses and the case was mostly circumstantial, but Mike got the conviction. And at the time I thought it was a risk for him to take that case, given the rumors that were starting to swirl about his nomination to the federal bench. I thought an acquittal wouldn’t help him get the nod. He took the Rivera case anyway and won. Not every sitting DA out there – especially with the prospect of a federal judgeship on the horizon – would have done that.
In short for most of the time I worked for Mike, I viewed him with a mixture of respect, admiration, and a good bit of fear. I had my turns (deserved) at being called onto the carpet in his office, but for the most part he was always supportive and fair to me. I honestly learned from him not only through watching him on trial but through talking with him. Our office was never perfect, but it was a family with Mike as its father-figure.
Mike would almost always call to congratulate me after I won a big trial. He was genuinely happy for you when you succeeded. But the moment that will always stand out in my mind when it comes to Mike was not one of triumph. Sara VanStrydonck and I prosecuted a very lengthy and emotional child physical abuse case together, and long story short we lost. Lots of tears were shed, and our whole bureau in Child Abuse took it very hard. The verdict, if I recall correctly, came in late, 830 pm I would guess on a weeknight. We all sat in my office just spent, truly defeated. The rest of the attorneys and staff in the building had long gone home. But Mike showed up. He came to console and understand, and looked the other way at the glasses of wine and scotch we had in our hands. It meant a ton to me that he was there for us after such a deflating defeat. Again, not every DA would have done what he did that night.
That’s the Mike Green I want to try to remember working for.
But if I am being honest, things changed for the worse at the office when Mike was officially nominated for the federal bench. It became over time a more paranoid place. Email after email came down from the administration about ethical obligations and new policies and new procedures and new forms. Rumor and gossip replaced facts and clarity. It sucked the morale out of many of us.
Add to that the stress of the 2011 election which has been well chronicled. I’m not going to rehash that here, other than to say that Mike wasn’t around very much. There was never a senoir staff or whole office meeting to calm everyone’s nerves. There should have been. We needed his leadership.
I can’t ignore the fact that Mike was still the DA on November 29, the day the five of us got fired. Sandy for sure wanted us gone, as was her right come January 1st, but it was Mike who carried it out a month ahead of time. He was nice enough to me in the meeting where I was dismissed, thanking me for all I had done and telling me I was going to be paid through the end of the year. But the facts are these: it was his call that we were not allowed back in the building ever again. It was his call that our phones were taken away immediately. It was his call that we didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. It was his call that we were all escorted out by investigators as if we were going to do God knows what. He was the District Attorney that day – not Sandy. The responsibility was his. I’ll never forget it, and I will never understand it.
He thanked me that day for all I had done. What had I done? I bled for that office for 7+ years. I stayed and continued to fight as I watched literally hundereds of colleagues leave. I gave my all every single day. I cared about my colleagues and the victims I worked with. I went to every going away party I was in town for – only to be denied the same opportunity to say goodbye when my time was up.
What am I trying to say here? I wish Mike all the luck and good fortune in the world. He is going to do a great job for the citizens of New York without a doubt. He gave me a chance to live my dream when he hired me on September 13, 2004. I wouldn’t be the lawyer I am today if not for that and all of the other opportunities he gave to me. He taught me, knocked me back into line when I needed it, promoted me, and always had an open door for me. But he also let me down, as much as anyone else has ever let me down.
The time to look back is rapidly coming to an end. Now is the time to look forward, for all concerned. The dust has finally completely settled for everyone with this news about Mike. It’s been a long time coming.