The women in the Queens District Attorney race took center stage at a public forum on Wednesday at the Rego Center Community Room in Rego Park.
Candidates Melinda Katz, Mina Malik, Tiffany Cabán, and Betty Lugo diverged at an event Amplify Her hosted.
Amplify Her is a progressive group in New York City that is fighting to get more women in political office.
Lugo, a founding partner of the first Latina-owned law firm in New York City, thought about her sister when a hypothetical question about prosecuting a costly identity theft case of a Queens woman – Martha – whose credit card was stolen but used in other states.
“Identity theft is not a victimless crime,” said Lugo. “I personally know people, including my sister whose identity was stolen.”
Lugo planned to dive deep in the DA budget to find the resources necessary to help bring down the perpetrator and help the victim in the hypothetical identity theft scenario.
“If I’m not going to have to spend $3,000 to prosecute a charge, I will evaluate the case to make sure it is a strong case, however, poor Ms. Martha would have to deal with all her credit card companies and suffer the brunt of all this identity theft,” said Lugo. “Let’s look in the budget and see what we can do because I believe Martha deserves respect and deserves to be protected.”
If the case lacks jurisdiction in Queens, Lugo intends on making sure the defendant pleas to something that reflects the crime committed to the hypothetical victim.
Katz, the Queens Borough President, also had a personal take on the scenario.
“I don’t know about everybody in this room, but I’ve had my credit card go missing and I don’t automatically report to the police,” said Katz. “I call my credit card company and I say ‘I’m not paying for any of those charges so stop it’. Usually, the credit card company pursues or doesn’t pursue [the case].”
Katz said she would try to learn if the defendant had an outstanding warrant in Queens in order to prosecute the case.
“If we don’t have the jurisdiction to prosecute this particular case, I would suggest that we help Martha get some sort of justice,” said Katz. “There are many ways you can protect yourself against identity theft and future identity theft and I would want to make sure that she was getting the services needed to protect herself in the future.”
Cabán, a public defender, suggested that the $3,000 it would cost to pursue the case, which the Queens DA’s office may not have jurisdiction, could better be spent going towards the victim or services to help the victim.
“Take that $3,000 that you would take to pick up that person and reinvest it to the survivor and victim’s services,” said Cabán. “Make that survivor or victim whole by helping them in the process of getting their life back together.”
Malik, a former state and federal prosecutor, preferred having a conversation with the victim on how to pursue the matter instead of wasting time on the case.
“This is a non-violent offense,” said Malik. “In D.C. we pursued a restorative justice initiative where we actually brought victims and offenders together to talk about the harm that was caused and how to repair the harm that was caused and to make sure that it did not happen again in the future.”
Robyn Enes, a former litigator and the chief of staff for Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Jackson Heights) asked the candidates what they would do to make the DA’s office family friendly and to keep the assistant district attorneys from being overworked.
“The Borough President’s office we implemented parental leave long before the city did and if you are a new father and wanted to take two weeks off and we are very proud of that,” said Katz. “We have staff that always bring their children to the office. I have a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, and if I don’t have a babysitter I bring them with me.”
The children of staffers have often had play dates at the Queens Borough President’s headquarters in Kew Gardens while their parents work, according to Katz.
“It’s a very child-friendly atmosphere,” said Katz. “I do believe professional women can have both. They can have a career and they can have a family, but it is never preclusive of one another, but the office style has to be a part of that.”
Lugo recalled being the first Latina woman at the Nassau County DA’s office and remembered how others felt she might not be up to the job because she was a parent with an elderly mother to take care of.
“That is what they are looking at when they are interviewing you,” said Lugo. “Under my administration I will make sure that everyone has an equal right to an equal job and that there is outreach and case management and that there is a team effort and that everyone works as a team, so if someone has to take care of a sick mother there is a partner who can pick up the slack.”
Lugo also wants mental health and wellness resources available to staffers in a DA office.
Malik wants to take a data-driven approach to determine the appropriate amount of cases for assistant district attorneys to handle.
“When I was working on misdemeanor cases we had upwards of 253 cases that we had to handle,” said Malik, a former assistant district attorney. “It was extremely, extremely difficult to be the mother of two sons and to be a trial attorney.”
She would want in-house childcare as a part of her administration.
“Mothers and fathers would be able to do their jobs effectively and parent,” said Malik. “Make sure there is parental leave for men and women, job sharing and a flex-time policy,” she added.
Cabán suggested declining to prosecute some cases would be an effective model for the DA’s office.
“We need to make sure that we are targeting bad actors who are causing widespread harm and widespread destabilization in our communities understanding that is the root cause of other crimes,” said Cabán. “Being more efficient in our prosecution would then decrease caseloads.”
As a public defender Cabán said that if someone needed time off someone else was ready to pick up the slack.
“One of the things that I love as a public defender is this idea that family comes first and we would support you,” said Cabán. “That’s the type of culture that needs to be fostered and adopted in our district attorney offices.”
She also recommended supportive health services in order to do their work sustainably.
The primary for the District Attorney office is on June 25.