A recent alleged scandal has broken involving charges that Judge Barry Kamins, the chief administrator of the New York City Criminal Court and chief of planning and policy for the state courts, was serving as unofficial political consultant to then District Attorney Charles Hynes. It is disappointing, and somewhat surprising to read about, given the high regard in which many of us in the Brooklyn (and New York State) criminal defense community have held Judge Kamins.
What is simultaneously disheartening and illuminating, however, is the effect that such apparent cozy politicization has on real lives on the ground- namely, Jabar Collins. Collins is an innocent man who sat in jail for years while the District Attorney avoided the politically unpalatable reality that his office had railroaded one in a series of innocent men. Judge Kamins and Hynes appear to have discussed the Collins matter extensively- but judging from the emails discussed in the Department of Investigation report, solely concerning the political fallout. According to the emails excerpted in the DOI report, Kamins wrote to the DA that Collins’ attorney, who did a fantastic job advocating for his innocent client, was “out of control”. In fact, it was the District Attorney’s office that was out of control, with no effective oversight to ensure that innocent people weren’t convicted in all our names.
I sympathize with Judge Kamins- the thoughts we commit to emails are not always the most carefully deliberated. But Kamin’s alleged “out of control” comment does reflect something that goes to the very heart of the whole matter- that a good attorney, advocating vigorously on behalf of his client, is perceived to be “out of control”. Good for that lawyer! Because it means he is out of control- out of control of the cozy system of insiders and players.
Staying “out of control” in that sense, while remaining an effective advocate, can be a fine needle to thread. Human nature plays a big part of all of this. I have genuine admiration and even affection for many players in the system, including prosecutors and judges, DEA agents and court officers. We serve on the same bar committees; we go to the same bars, the same retirement parties, the same fundraisers. Being an inside outsider, making the sale without selling out, is the real challenge. When the client or the greater cause of justice takes a back seat to personality and politics, real lives, like that of Jabar Collins, can take a beating.