Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., might be one of those understated legal geniuses who see things in life’s tawdry fact patterns the rest of us miss. Or maybe he’s just the son of a famous man, former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who rode his daddy’s coattails all the way into a job that’s just too big for his meager talents. Gauging by his office’s performance in the Anna Gristina case, I am not checking the genius box when it comes time to cast a ballot for Vance.
Ms. Gristina was charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office earlier this year with promoting prostitution. At her arraignment, prosecutors from Vance’s office stood in the well of Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom and made a star of Ms. Gristina: she has made millions of dollars as a high-class, high-end prostitute to the wealthy in Manhattan; she has friends in high places, and is close to those who hold the reins of power in the city; she’s operated a brothel out of an Upper East Side apartment. Vance’s minion’s transformed Ms. Gristina into a prep schooler’s wet dream; she was everything money could buy.
So Vance prosecuted the fantasy.
Ms. Gristina was picked up off a Manhattan Street and held incommunicado by lawmen in the DA’s public corruption unit. If she’d play ball with Vance, things might go easy for her. The cheap suits promised her leniency if she’d but give them a name or two. Ms. Gristina gave nothing, so she was locked up.
She was arrested months after an undercover cop took $2,000 of taxpayer’s money to arrange for a threesome with two young women. The man watched the women engage in cunnilingus, secretly recording them, and then left -- a little justice interruptus.
Ms. Gristina was held on a $2 million bond at Riker’s Island for more than four months, until the New York Appellate Court found the bond obscene and slapped at Vance’s office in a humiliating rebuke.
Public corruption prosecutors dangled the prospect of leniency before Ms. Gristina throughout the proceedings. Give us a name or two, they’d suggest, and this might be but a bad dream. Throughout the proceedings, it became apparent that the prostitution prosecution was but a pretext for an investigation of Vance’s preoccupation with corruption in his own office, or in the police department, or in the judiciary.
I represented Ms. Gristina throughout most of the proceedings. I never once was given access to any of the evidence Vance’s office claims support the extravagant claims raised by prosecutors in open court. Ms. Gristina’s millions? A fantasy, I suspect. Her decade’s long history of marketing to the lust of the leisure class? Not once did the prosecution produce a document, a name, anything, to substantiate its claim – it was almost as though Vance was afraid to offend the big money boys. Ms. Gristina’s connection to the power elite? Another dead end.
In the end, the case came down to a two-bit prosecution made possible by a sting operation, a case in which a lawman played the role of John, wired up, and produced audiotapes and videotapes of a horny guy looking to "be with" not one girl, but two. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars did Manhattan spend on this dead-end investigation?
Ms. Gristina pled guilty to a low-level felony. She promoted prostitution. She was sentenced to time served and walked out of the courthouse doors a free woman.
Before she walked out the courthouse door, Vance’s office had already prepared a written statement, declaring victory. Vance’s public relations mongrel growled that there is nothing glamorous about prostitution. Ms. Gristina rented women’s bodies. She is nothing more than a pimp.
Does Vance really think he won this case? Who’s the real pimp here? He spent a fortune hounding Ms. Gristina and got nothing other than what he paid, with tax dollars, to procure – a live peep show for a cop wearing a wire.
The District Attorney is elected in Manhattan. Just why anyone would vote for Cy Vance, Jr., is a mystery. In one case after another his office promises the world, and delivers a dud. Can the city really afford to nourish this man’s fantasy life?
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.
Secession anyone? The last time there was a groundswell of support for the states to secede from the union, we ended up fighting a bloody civil war. One hundred and fifty years later, there are new calls for secession. Just how serious is the new secession movement?
The mainstream press has not reported much on the rush of secession petitions posted on a website maintained by the White House. At week’s end, petitions had been filed from all 50 states. Texas leads the way, with more than 100,000 signatures on its petition. Connecticut’s petition had 2,500 or so signatures.
It’s tempting to write the new secessionists off as a bunch of crybabies, or bored Tea Party members, looking for a new theme to rally around. The whole powdered wig thing has gone a little stale, after all. But do these new paper revolutionaries really want to fly the stars and bars at their next rally?
I suspect they do, and that’s what scares me.
The heaviest concentration of secessionist activity seems to be in the red states, those unhappy territories still reeling from the re-election of Barack Obama. If you juxtapose a pair of maps, one identifying slave states and territories just prior to the Civil War, the other identifying today’s Red states in thrall to the GOP, the result will shock you: Johnny Reb was voting Romney all the way in 2012.
But why secession now?
Demographics is destiny. Come 2040, Caucasians will become a minority in the United States. The day after election results were in, the GOP awoke to a brave new world: it’s no longer enough to appeal simply to white voters. People of color, Hispanics, Asians -- the new emerging majority -- have clout.
I spoke at a community group in New Haven not long after the election. A state representative reported that fellow black activists were gleeful about the results of the election. It was a harbinger of the end of white world, or so they thought.
The new secessionists sense this glee and are recoiling in terror. Their faux patriotism and expressed desire to leave the union is really just the last gasp of white privilege saying to people of color: “You can’t govern us, we quit.”
Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t petition your way out of the union. Nothing in the Constitution yields a recipe for state secession. The last time states tried to do so, hundreds of thousands of men died.
I doubt many will die in this pathetic attempt at Civil War re-enactment. It’s one thing to play Internet rebel and sign a petition using a pseudonym; it’s another to raise arms, and seek to sever political ties with bloodshed. This new secessionism is about as revolutionary a risk as was taken by Tea Party masqueraders: lip synching about liberty and bellyaching about tyranny is meaningless when all your prepared to risk is the expense of tricorn hat or a lawn sign.
For how many years did the right taunt protestors of all sorts: “America, love it or leave it”? They bashed the United Nations, war protestors and civil rights activists. Today they want to leave, but they want to take their property with them.
The loss of privilege requires readjustment. The secessionists are kicking and screaming their way into a new world. But the union is not about to dissolve amid all this silliness; it will, however, change.
We live in interesting times, a time of ferment, and the forging of new expectations. We need to suffer the secessionists in our midst. They’ve pining away for a world that no longer exists. It’s no wonder they are frightened.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.