Brooklyn D.A. Names Advisers for His Review of Convictions
As New York City averted a lawsuit from David Ranta, who spent 23 years in prison for a now-vacated murder conviction, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office announced the appointment of an outside advisory panel to help review other questionable convictions in the wake of the Ranta case.
On Thursday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced a $6.4 million settlement with Ranta, who had submitted a $150 million notice of claim against the city but had not yet filed a full-fledged suit.
On Friday, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced the appointment of a three-member panel to consult with the office's Conviction Review Unit about convictions connected to now-retired detective Louis Scarcella, who handled the case against Ranta, and other cases.
In a statement, Thompson—who ousted longtime incumbent Charles Hynes after slamming him on questionable convictions—said the advisers' "combined experience and uncompromising integrity will prove invaluable in my office's efforts to meticulously examine available evidence in order to right wrongs or confirm convictions. My ultimate goal is to insure that the people of Brooklyn have faith in the fairness of our criminal justice system."
According to the announcement, the panelists will meet as-needed and advise on matters including if a "conviction should stand, needs additional review or should possibly be overturned."
Thompson has not yet announced who will head his office's internal unit. The press release said the conviction review unit "has recently been expanded and re-organized," and details would be forthcoming.
The outside advisers are Bernard Nussbaum, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of the Columbia University School of Law's Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, and defense attorney Gary Villanueva.
In an interview, Nussbaum said he and the other panelists were tasked with "examining various cases in which questions have arisen whether there was a proper conviction, and to exercise judgment and give opinions to the district attorney."
Noting the panel would soon begin its work, Nussbaum said participation was "an important public service" and he and the other members would do the job "to the best of our ability."
Nussbaum noted his background as a federal prosecutor, a defense attorney and his service as counsel to President Bill Clinton.