Although not winning an Oscar for the Frontline documentary film about Abacus Bank’s prosecution by D.A. Vance, the David & Goliath story of a neighborhood Chinese immigrant bank’s successful defense of questionable charges brought by D.A. Vance’s powerful office remains compelling. Vance, given an opportunity in the film to present justification for his prosecution (really persecution), tries to make the case by analogizing someone who takes $5 from a lender and then returning $10 including interest in accordance with a loan agreement. This the vaulted D.A. calls larceny, because the documents prepared by the simple borrower are found lacking in some unimportant detail. One questions the decision to prosecute since there was no evidence of intent to cheat nor any losses were incurred by the lender.
Although all of the dozens of counts charged were either dismissed by the judge or denied by the jury, which finding Abacus entirely not guilty, the D.A, ignoring the presumption of innocence, insists that Abacus was not found innocent but only not guilty. Vance, you may recall, suffered other embarrassment when it was disclosed before the election that he had accepted $50,000 for his campaign from movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers and of course failed to press sex offense charges against him. Weinstein was also the subject of a recent Frontline documentary film.
To his credit, Vance submitted this ethical question to a Columbia Law School body and in January announced a policy of no longer accepting contributions from lawyers whose clients are subject to prosecution by his office. It seems a first-year law student, even before attending an ethics class, would realize the appearance of impropriety his actions presented, again demonstrating a lack of basic prosecutorial judgment.
Lewis Rosenberg is of counsel to Ginarte Gallardo Gonzalez Winograd.