Levy and Tendy trade handshake and then attacks
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Before their Sept. 1 debate, Putnam County District Attorney Candidates Robert Tendy and Adam Levy exchanged a handshake. They then spent most of the evening exchanging attacks, although they found rare concurrence in opposing aspects of gun control and endorsing the county drug court.
In the forum, held in Mahopac under League of Women Voters sponsorship, Levy, the incumbent district attorney, and Tendy, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney who now serves as Putnam Valley town supervisor, also argued about the Marcinak murder case.
In 2010, Levy’s office obtained a conviction of second-degree murder against Anthony Grigoroff in the death of Garrison garage owner John Marcinak, but an appeals court recently overturned the verdict, setting the stage for a new trial.
Levy and his challenger square off next Thursday (Sept. 10) in the Republican primary, the main contest in the DA race because the Democrats in Putnam County did not field a candidate.
Both men criticized the 2013 NY SAFE Act gun control law. Levy zeroed in on a provision prohibiting seven-round ammunition magazines, which a federal judge in the western New York district struck down while upholding most of the law, including a ban on assault weapons. However, that judge’s jurisdiction does not include Putnam County, which lies within the southern New York federal court district.
Questions of judicial purview notwithstanding, Levy said he would defer to the western district court. “I agreed wholeheartedly” that the seven-round rule “was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Constitution of the United States,” he said.
Thus, he concluded that “I would follow the judge’s rule as well as the [New York] State Police decision and policy not to prosecute any individual for violating that element of the NY SAFE Act.” Likewise, “I indicated that of course we would not enforce and prosecute those charges for anyone in Putnam County accused of them.”
Should the western judge’s decision on the ammunition magazines get overturned, “of course we would have to prosecute that law, as we would anyone else and every other law,” Levy said.
He also continued to justify Putnam County’s refusal to disclose to The Journal News the names and addresses of pistol owners, although it was public information. Publishing the data on “all law-abiding pistol owners” meant “putting them and their families at risk, and their neighbors,” Levy said, adding that he objected “not for political reasons. It was common sense; it was basic safety. I blasted The Journal News and they deserved it.”
“It’s not just the SAFE Act,” Tendy said. “It’s also the Second Amendment. In my opinion the SAFE Act is something that every prosecutor should be very, very worried about. It is an end-run against our constitutional right to bear arms. And any law of that nature would receive very high scrutiny from my office.”
Similarly to Levy, he invoked the right of a prosecutor to exercise discretion in choosing cases to pursue. As DA, if “circumstances of an arrest concerning the SAFE Act” warrant it, he said, he would inform defense attorneys that “I would consider it helpful to my office if they would file what’s called a motion to dismiss in the interests of justice” and get the case thrown out.
Tendy used the Marcinak case as one of various examples of what he described as incompetence by Levy and the DA’s staff. “It’s a tragedy that conviction was reversed,” he said. “This conviction was reversed because of basic — 101 evidence course — procedures. The DA’s office put into evidence double hearsay, hearsay, triple hearsay.”
As a prosecutor, “you should know that if you introduce double hearsay, you’ll get [a conviction] reversed. There’s a lack of training in the [DA] office, a lack of understanding of procedure and evidence and it has to change,” Tendy maintained.
Levy asserted that “John Marcinak was murdered and Mr. Grigoroff killed him. The defendant confessed to the crime” on a video seen by the jury. He claimed the reversal of the conviction “had nothing to do with sufficiency” and “the fact we proved the case beyond reasonable doubt and a jury convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Levy said that the appellate judges “weren’t quite happy with the fact the defendant himself, through his lawyers, attempted to create a perception for the jury that was just false.” With the approval of the trial court judge, the prosecution sought to disprove the defendant’s story and “we did use every legal and lawful tool to ensure the jury was not misled,” Levy said. “We’re ready to retry the case.”
Both men praised the county’s treatment or drug court, which tries to assist substance abusers overcome their addictions, avoid prison and return to society. Tendy, who practices law as a criminal defense attorney from a Dutchess County office, decried what he termed “draconian” drug laws.
“I go to jails a lot,” he said. “I’ve seen their [inmates’] lives destroyed by the sentences they get.” He urged stronger advocacy so the treatment court is not threatened by insufficient government funding.
Levy said he had expanded use of the treatment court and been instrumental in starting one to deal with offenders with mental health problems. Drug abuse is illegal “and I enforce the law,” but it’s the way that drug offenses are handled that laudably sets Putnam County apart, he said, citing the drug court’s work. At the same time, he pledged to continue to pursue drug dealers and take strong measures against them.
Reasons for running
Along with objecting to Levy’s handling of cases, Tendy disparaged other actions, including the DA’s protracted feud with Sheriff Donald Smith, in which Smith and Levy sued each other.
“If you want a DA’s office that inspires confidence, works cordially and professionally with police officers, isn’t on the front page regarding dismissals on a weekly and monthly basis, isn’t involved in ethical scandals,” then pick him, Tendy suggested, touting his record as a Manhattan prosecutor and comprehensive legal experience since then. “I don’t mean to be mean” in castigating Levy, he said, but “I think we can do better.”
Levy defended his “bulletproof” record, including a 40 percent reduction in violent crime under his tenure and claimed that “I talk fact, not fiction.” He recalled promising when first seeking the DA job to protect Putnam residents and their families the same way he does his own.
“I’m not a politician. When I make a promise, I keep it,” he stated. Moreover, he said that while he and Smith have differences, in the DA’s office “we work extremely well with the individual officers, and that’s what matters.”
Photos by L.S. Armstrong