Aborn Highlights Experience as Advocate and Analyst of Criminal Justice Policy Issues
By Vesselin Mitev|June 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM
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Richard M. Aborn says voters can get a sense of how he would approach the job of Manhattan District Attorney by examining his work for the police departments of Los Angeles and London. Starting as a volunteer for handgun control in 1984, Mr. Aborn, 56, says he has spent his career advocating for change in the criminal justice system. In 2004, the managing partner of Constantine Cannon, an antitrust litigation firm, helped establish a consultancy affiliated with the law firm called Constantine & Aborn Advisory Services, to offer among other services, advice on law enforcement policy. His rivals to replace Robert M. Morgenthau, who is retiring as district attorney after 35 years, point to their traditional roles in the legal community. Leslie Crocker Snyder reminds voters that she was a criminal court judge and a prosecutor. Cyrus Vance Jr. stresses his role as both prosecutor and defense attorney. But in interviews and in candidate forums, Mr. Aborn stresses policy. He claims he has an edge over his rivals because of his experience working with clients like the Los Angeles Police Department and the British Transport Police, as well as his 1999 investigation into the practices of the New York Police Department after the shooting death of Amadou Diallo; and his evaluation of the campus security at Barnard College and Brown University. “I think I bring a much broader set of credentials to the table,” said Mr. Aborn, who was an assistant district attorney for five years under Mr. Morgenthau. Although he has not run a criminal justice agency, he said, “I have worked at length in many [different] aspects of the criminal justice system…developing and implementing criminal justice policy at the federal, state and local levels.” Mr. Vance and Ms. Snyder have disputed that claim. Mr. Vance has noted that Mr. Aborn has not tried a case to verdict since 1992 and lacks courtroom experience. Ms. Snyder, a former prosecutor and judge, did not comment for this article, But a May 21 article in the Daily News reports that on the campaign trail, Ms. Snyder has dismissed Mr. Aborn a “consultant.’” See a list of endorsements for all three candidates. But as the candidates collect signatures for a spot on the Sept. 15 Democratic primary ballot, Mr. Aborn’s description of himself as a “proven crime fighter” and “true progressive” has gained some traction among party activists. He has picked up the endorsement of 15 Democratic Clubs and won the support of more elected officials than either of his opponents. ‘Very Skilled Facilitator’ In 2001, Los Angeles Police Commissioner William Bratton, who is a close friend and a former New York City police commissioner, asked Mr. Aborn to advise the LAPD in complying with a 144-point federal consent decree issued in 2001 that mandated a series of changes within the department. The mandate came after highly publicized incidents involving allegations of police corruption, including framing suspects by planting evidence and giving false testimony. The decree included federal oversight of police activities, including traffic stops, use of lethal force and detaining suspects.
University of Dubuque from Fall 1970 to Spring 1974John Marshall Law School from 1976 to 1979Admitted 1979Manhattan Assistant District Attorney from 1979 through 1984
Mr. Bratton, who has endorsed Mr. Aborn, acknowledged in an interview that there was a “lot of frustration” among the police ranks and said he relied on Mr. Aborn, whom he called a “very skilled facilitator” to “keep a finger on the pulse” of the department. The Los Angeles officers were under pressure to meet bureaucratic deadlines like 911 response times, at the same time they were assigned duties like directing traffic when civilian employees were available to handle those jobs. They were also spending time typing up reports on outdated equipment, Mr. Aborn said. Their main focus was “getting through the day without getting in trouble” and the result was “deep animosity between the community and the cops.” After conducting numerous interviews with officers, community leaders and members of the defense bar, Mr. Aborn said he was able to “identify what some of the barriers to change were,” including eliminating duplicative tasks and upgrading technology. Several of his recommendations, including overhauling the department’s internal information technology plan and a top-to-bottom review of the SWAT team operations, were adopted by the Los Angeles department, which remains a client of Mr. Aborn’s consulting firm. A few years later, Mr. Aborn was tapped by Robert R. Kiley, former chief of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority MTA, who became London’s transport head in 2001, to analyze whether the British Transport Police should be merged into Scotland Yard. He concluded that the transit police should be kept separate and his recommendations led to funding for an additional 200 officers and the placement of uniformed squads in certain stations and trains, according to a spokeswoman for Assistant Chief Constable Paul Crowther. Mr. Aborn said that such experience helping large organizations “change both their focus and effectiveness” would enable him to bring modern crime prevention tactics to the district attorney’s office. “The experience has helped me think a lot about how you take over an organization like the DA’s office,” Mr. Aborn said. “The big thing is to figure out how to best tap into the talent and the creative thinking that currently resides in the DA’s office.” He declined to offer specific examples of the changes he thinks are needed. His two Democratic opponents, Leslie Crocker Snyder 0f Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman and Cyrus R. Vance Jr. of Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer, have downplayed Mr. Aborn’s credentials to manage a criminal justice agency. “Richard has more political experience but I have a greater degree of experience in those matters that I think are relevant to running the DA’s office—criminal justice policy, case handling and understanding both sides of the criminal justice process,” Mr. Vance said in an interview. “My overall experience is relevant to leading an office of criminal trial attorneys and I have stayed in the courtroom actively handling litigation and criminal matters,” he added. Neither Ms. Snyder nor her campaign returned requests for comment, but on the campaign trail she has stressed her more recent courtroom experience (NYLJ, May 20). Gun Control Efforts Mr. Aborn first became active in criminal justice policy during a campaign for firearms control. “When I was in the DA’s office I saw the amount of gun violence on the street and started…to understand the importance of prevention,” he said. After leaving the district attorney’s office in 1984, he volunteered with the state gun control lobby. It was there that he met Larry Lowenstein, the brother of Long Island Congressman Allard Lowenstein, who was gunned down in 1980 by a disgruntled staff member. Larry Lowenstein was also working with the national gun control movement, then Handgun Control Inc., now called the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Mr. Lowenstein recruited Mr. Aborn to join the organization, which is named for Jim Brady, the former press secretary to Ronald Reagan who was shot in the head during a 1981 attempt on the president’s life. Mr. Aborn became president of the group in 1992 and cites passage of the “Brady Bill” as the crowning achievement of his tenure, which lasted until 1996. The Brady Handgun Prevention Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and initially required a five-day waiting period before handguns could be bought. The Brady Campaign did not return requests for comment. In 1999, Public Advocate Mark Green selected Mr. Aborn to investigate the New York City Police Department’s disciplinary system in the wake of the fatal shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo. He said that his report of the investigation influenced recommendations to increase internal discipline made by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which tracks complaints against officers and the department’s response. Two years later, Barnard College and Brown University approached him separately to evaluate their campus public safety procedures, including police training and complaint review. In 2005, he became president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, an independent advocacy group with ties to local business leaders and law enforcement agencies. Mr. Aborn remains the group’s president, but he is on a leave of absence. Gary Beller, a partner in Goodwin Procter who serves on the group’s board of directors, described Mr. Aborn as a “breath of fresh air” but said that the group would not endorse him for district attorney. “We think highly of Richard, however the other two candidates who we also know, are well qualified,” Mr. Beller said in an interview, noting that the group would have to work with whomever becomes the next district attorney. “We are torn because it will be great if he becomes district attorney, but then we won’t have him anymore,” Mr. Beller said. Mr. Aborn splits his time between the law firm and the consulting business, depending on the size and scope of the project. “I run both organizations,” he said. The consultancy offers staffing, such as lawyers for document review, as well as analysis and project management services. Two other Constantine Cannon attorneys also are involved, Gerard Britton, who heads the investigative branch and Alysia Solow, who oversees the staffing division. Mr. Aborn declined to provide rates, only saying “they are competitive” and vary by project. Endorsements and Visibility Months into the campaign, political experts say that all three candidates still remain virtually unknown among most voters. But Mr. Aborn’s support among political clubs and elected officials could translate into votes, said consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Endorsements give voters the sense that significant people have a sense of familiarity with the candidate,” Mr. Sheinkopf said in an interview. However, he added that of the three candidates, Ms. Snyder still is the best positioned as she has already run once before and she is the only “woman in a [county] where women tend to win elections.” Jerry Skurnik, head of political consultancy Prime New York, said that “most people are surprised at the amount of organized political support” that Mr. Aborn has received. He called him a “real contender.” He is guaranteed a spot on the ballot regardless of the outcome of the Sept. 15 Democratic primary after an endorsement by the Working Families Party last month. But Mr. Aborn will back the Democratic nominee, according to his campaign (NYLJ, May 29). Mr. Aborn, however, said he is optimistic about his chances in the primary. “I’m feeling very good — I feel that we have made enormous progress and voters are embracing our message about this office.” @
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