Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced Tuesday that she is running for district attorney in her borough, laying out a progressive-leaning platform for the office that includes ending cash bail for misdemeanors and forming a unit to review questionable convictions.
Katz, a Democrat who is in her second term as borough president, is the third candidate to officially announce that she is running to succeed Richard Brown, who has served as Queens DA since 1991 and who has managed to avoid a serious challenge in elections held since.
“I’m running as a different type of district attorney,” Katz said in an interview. “The DA’s job has to be making changes in legislation as well as investigating crime.”
Brown, who is 86, has said that he intends to serve out the remainder of his term, which concludes at the end of next year, and that he does not intend to make a decision about his future plans until next year.
City Councilman Rory Lancman and recently retired state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, who are both Democrats, previously announced that they are running for the seat, and both have said they, too, would stop prosecuting certain low-level offenses and form conviction review units.
Additionally, Mina Malik, a former Queens prosecutor who is now the deputy attorney general for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, has reportedly expressed interest in running for the seat but has not officially declared her candidacy.
The declared candidates’ stated plans for the office each depart from how Brown has led the office in recent years as his counterparts in Manhattan and Brooklyn have moved to enact progressive reforms.
Brown’s office has opposed forming a conviction review unit like the one formed in Brooklyn, which worked on two dozen cases that resulted in exonerations, and has held firm that it will continue to prosecute marijuana possession and turnstile jumping.
Katz said that, if elected, that she would end the practice of refusing to take plea bargains for defendants after they have been indicted and that the office would work to get discovery materials to defense attorneys as soon as possible. She also proposes using asset forfeiture money and partnering with a ridesharing program to provide safe rides to revelers on nights when there are spikes in drunk and drugged driving, such as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
While some of her proposals are intended to make justice more equitable for defendants, Katz says she would also make prosecution of hate crimes a top priority for the office as well as aggressively pursue purveyors of immigration fraud and elder abuse.
“I believe the real issue in this borough is that there are people who believe that there is no justice on either side,” Katz said,
In addition to her tenure as Queens borough president, Katz has served in the City Council from 2002 to 2009 and the State Assembly from 1994 to 1999.
In terms of her legal experience, after earning a law degree at St. John’s University School of Law, she interned for the then-U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey of the Southern District of New York and later interned for the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prior to her election to the State Assembly, Katz worked as a mergers & acquisitions associate for Weil, Gotshal & Manges; she went back into the private bar following her tenure in the City Council, becoming a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig before she was first elected in 2013 as Queens borough president.
Lasak previously served under Brown and was a lauded as a star prosecutor, while both Katz and Lancman do not have prosecutorial experience.
Lancman, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System, previously worked employment and wage-theft cases, which he said gave him substantial experience with litigation.
Katz said that she doesn’t see the fact that she did not previously serve as a prosecutor as a hindrance to effectively serving as DA, citing both her legal experience and her time as an elected official in Queens, in which she said she has been able to build bridges between the diverse array of communities represented in the borough.
“I believe that’s the type of experience that’s necessary for this job,” Katz said.