Tali Farhadian Weinstein
Manhattan District Attorney Candidate Questionnaire
Background and Experience
Please describe any experience you have had as a criminal prosecutor. Please explain why you believe you are qualified to lead an office of more than 500 prosecutors?
As an Assistant U.S. Attorney for six years, I investigated and prosecuted over 150 cases ranging from gun violence and murders to public corruption, tax and other frauds, and national security matters. I have conducted investigations that took many years each, and involved working with numerous law enforcement agents and task forces as well as other government partners. I also briefed and argued some cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
As General Counsel of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for two years, I supervised the Appeals Bureau and our entire appellate practice – all appeals and collateral motions – as well as legal positions taken throughout the trial bureaus; I also supervised the Conviction Review Unit, the Post-Conviction Justice Bureau, the Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau, and the Civil Litigation Bureau. This represents too many cases to count, but I estimate many hundreds.
Finally, as Counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder at the U.S. Department of Justice, I supported him in his supervision of the Solicitor General’s Office and the immigration components; sometimes this involved active participation in specific cases.
Briefly describe your litigation experience, including the number of cases tried and appeals handled, and whether such cases were criminal or civil.
See above and below describing my litigation experience as a federal and local prosecutor.
Early in my career, I spent a year at Debevoise & Plimpton where I worked principally in the international litigation and arbitration group, and also did some criminal defense cases.
Please describe your experience managing groups or teams of professionals, and note an example where your management skills solved a difficult problem.
Most recently and most relevant, I served as the General Counsel of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, under the leadership of Eric Gonzalez – the fourth largest district attorney’s office in the country. As set forth above, I directly managed multiple bureaus of the office, directed complex litigations, and developed and oversaw office-wide policies.
I also served as a close advisor to the District Attorney and was an important part of the leadership team charged with implementing the office’s criminal justice reform agenda. I understand how to create institutional change from within a local prosecutor’s office because I have done it. In fact, I am the only candidate in this race who has led the implementation of criminal justice reforms within a district attorney’s office. For instance, I created and oversaw two new bureaus – the first Post-Conviction Justice Bureau in the country, and the Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau. I also created and managed the deployment of various new policies including, for example, regarding parole positions and areas of practice including discovery and bail; and helped develop and deploy a new internal evaluation process for line prosecutors.
I also have experience navigating complex litigation that ushers in widespread reform. In Brooklyn, I led the team that successfully sued I.C.E. over the agency’s policy of arresting non-citizens in and around state courthouses, working with colleagues in the Domestic Violence Bureau, the Civil Litigation Bureau, and other parts of the office. Together with the New York State attorney general’s office, we established that the I.C.E. policy interfered with local prosecution’s core mission – pursuing justice and delivering on safety.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, I worked in the U.S. Department of Justice as Counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder. In this role, I helped the Attorney General manage numerous components of the Department and with specific projects, such as developing guidance for thousands of federal prosecutors nationwide about how to use their discretion in charging decisions.
Have you ever been the subject of a complaint to any court, administrative agency, bar association, disciplinary committee, or other professional group for breach of ethics, unprofessional conduct, or other violation?
The office is currently engaged in a long-term investigation of Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. If the office were to file complex fraud charges against Trump, what in your background would give the people of Manhattan and the country confidence that you, in particular, have the capability and the experience to be in charge of the case?
I cannot comment on any specifics as I have not seen the facts in the case, but I will follow the facts wherever they might lead.
As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I prosecuted complex tax fraud and evasion cases as well as other white collar matters, and thoroughly understand the challenges involved. In the Brooklyn DA’s Office, I led the team that successfully sued the Trump Administration over the I.C.E. courthouse arrest policy, as detailed above.
But let me be clear that this investigation and potential prosecution will require more than experience prosecuting tax crimes or suing Trump. The district attorney must be someone who has worked across American legal institutions, who understands both federal and state law and jurisdiction and the overlaps and differences between them, has serious management and leadership experience, and, most importantly, has a record of tackling new and challenging questions in the law – as I did from the Supreme Court to the front office of the U.S. Department of Justice to the front office of the Brooklyn DA’s office.
Policy, Operations, and Vision
How will you lead, support and build morale at a time when prosecutors feel underappreciated and under attack, at times, accused of being responsible for injustice?
I am so proud of my career as a prosecutor. Our profession has come under intense scrutiny and criticism, some of it undeniable for good reason. But I do worry that we have gone beyond productive criticism, and that my profession has been widely discredited and my colleagues demoralized – to our detriment as prosecutors but also for the people of Manhattan who depend on prosecutors to deliver the safety and fairness that are necessary for prosperity and freedom.
In the Brooklyn DA’s office, we created historic reforms and set nationwide precedents, while also supporting our employees and maintaining their support. Because this has been my life’s work, I am certain I can maintain and raise morale while modernizing the office, as I did in Brooklyn.
Many candidates in this race have said that incarceration should be a last resort. How would you go about determining which offenders are the ones who should be incarcerated, and would you consider information outside the particular case file? If not, why not? Which alternative to incarceration programs would you expand and how would you measure effectiveness?
In Brooklyn, our first principle was that incarceration is always a last resort – but that is very different from saying that incarceration is never necessary. The reason for incarceration is simple – public safety – and likewise public safety is sometimes better achieved through alternatives to incarceration. I will work with every bureau in the office to ensure we are making the decisions to balance safety and fairness. These determinations will sometimes be made in collaboration and consultation with experts such as social workers. For instance, I will treat substance disorders or chemical addictions as public health crises and look to offer treatment services. I will also seek to divert people with mental health illnesses when public safety allows it and would be enhanced by it; this includes a plan to expand access to mental health court. My office will measure all diversion and alternative programs to ensure they are promoting, and not undermining, public safety.
If you have pledged to limit prosecuting misdemeanor arrests. Please list the misdemeanor crimes you would direct your staff to not prosecute, and why.
It is impossible for prosecutors to prosecute every single criminal violation, and I believe we have to be transparent about how we prioritize our resources. I also believe the district attorney must lighten the heavy hand of the criminal justice system by foregoing prosecutions that send people into the system unnecessarily and unfairly, and that perpetuate racial injustice and poverty, and then put more resources to the cases that do matter. We must acknowledge that women of color are a growing population in our prisons and have long been over-policed but under protected, being charged excessively with crimes of poverty.
Gender-based and gun violence are my top priorities and where I will put the resources I save by pulling away from other cases.
Further, I think it’s important to separate out 3 categories of cases. First, I will make transparent a list of crimes that should not be prosecuted in most circumstances, for reasons including a history of gross racially disparate prosecution (like misdemeanor marijuana possession), or because there are better ways to achieve public safety and accountability (like fare beating). Second, many crimes are best prosecuted without incarceration, as described above. Third, I will increase supervision of charging decisions for some misdemeanor crimes that have been used disparately, such as resisting arrest, obstructing government administration, and trespass. Currently the least experienced members of the office staff the Early Case Assessment Bureau and make charging decisions. If elected, I will increase oversight to prevent disparities in charging.
In light of the new discovery laws and the requirement to turn over names of everyone who spoke to the police and their contact information, how do you plan to ensure the safety of witnesses and ensure that they will cooperate?
We must protect victims and witnesses so that they feel comfortable reporting crime and working with our office, and I did not support this aspect of the new law because I think it leads to victim and witness intimidation and inhibition. In the Brooklyn DA’s office, we created a digital application to shield witnesses’ actual numbers, just as mobile delivery services create a fake phone number for messengers and customers to communicate. If elected, I will use this technology to Manhattan to better protect witnesses and, as we did in Brooklyn, defend it in court. I will also continue to advocate for refinements to the new law that requires disclosing victim and witness contact information within 15 days in some cases, and in the meantime I will instruct ADAs to seek protective orders when necessary.
With outdated technology systems among city agencies, and additional staffing needed to secure reports, filings and paperwork, to meet new discovery rules, what is your plan for supporting ADAs in meeting the shortened timelines required for turning materials over to the defense?
We must modernize the DA’s office. This will involve supporting our ADAs with new staff, including hiring data and technology experts as well as compliance officers to help us meet the requirements.
Violent crime rose dramatically in 2020 and into 2021, and home burglaries are up as well. How will you decide when to prosecute people who carry loaded guns? Other than illegal possession of firearms, what specific strategies would you employ to reduce crime if you’re elected?
COVID-19 has caused immense trauma and dislocation, and I see the DA’s role as critical to Manhattan’s recovery from this challenging period. The DA must ensure that we emerge with a city where everyone feels safe and secure – in the street, at home, when reporting crime, when meeting the police. To do this, DAs must support community groups who are working to curb violence – both inside and outside the home – that is increasing as a result of economic insecurity and trauma resulting from the pandemic. We must also prioritize investigating and prosecuting crimes exacerbated or made harder to see because of the pandemic, like abuse of children.
The rise in gun violence is extremely troubling and tackling it will be one of my top priorities upon taking office. To fight the alarming rise in gun violence in Manhattan, New Yorkers need a DA who can stem the flow of guns into our city. Because 80% of guns recovered by New York law enforcement come from out of state, I will use my experience as a federal prosecutor to coordinate with federal agencies such as the FBI and ATF to build trafficking cases and prevent guns from coming in through areas such as the Port Authority. In addition, I will vastly expand the investigative capacity of DANY’s Violent Criminal Enterprise Unit, and will create Gun Courts to increase the speed of prosecution, because speed of prosecution is a well proven deterrent.
Do you believe the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor serves a useful function? If it were to be disbanded, would you increase enforcement of street-level drug dealing and drug seizures from drug dealers?
The SNP undoubtedly serves a useful function in investigating and prosecuting narcotics trafficking that transverses various boroughs. Currently, there is limited public data about the SNP, and upon taking office, I will evaluate whether the SNP is best positioned to fulfill this function or whether it can be done in-house at DANY. Speaking more broadly about drug cases, I think we should meet individuals suffering from addictions with a public health response, while holding accountable those who prey on their vulnerability.
How will you ensure building a trustful, respectful and collaborative relationship with the NYPD, while also ensuring police accountability? Do you have a plan to improve collaboration and communication with the NYPD?
The police are our partners in delivering public safety. But misconduct by law enforcement hurts us all by damaging public trust; when people do not have faith in the criminal justice system, everyone suffers. As Vice President Harris says, “Bad cops are bad for good cops.” I know how to balance both having a partnership police while holding those who offend accountable because I’ve done it – from my time as a federal prosecutor to the Brooklyn DA’s office. I’ve worked closely with police to build cases, and I’ve also created databases to ensure we don’t rely on testimony from officers who are not credible.
In Brooklyn, I helped create and supervised a new stand-alone Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau. We investigated and prosecuted the police for an array of crimes and I led the team that created an internal process for identifying officers that the district attorney’s office (not courts or outside institutions) considered unreliable, to ensure prosecutors do not work with those officers
in any capacity – a first in New York City. I supervised a new team in charge of gathering, managing, and disclosing information related to officers’ credibility.
As a federal prosecutor, I worked closely with NYPD officers – as well as federal agents – to solve a decades long cold case, and to investigate several other violent, complex cases.
In Manhattan, I will ensure we have a Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau like the one we built in Brooklyn. I will thoroughly investigate claims of police misconduct and hold law enforcement officers accountable when they offend – from false statements and perjury to serious acts of violence and excessive use of force. I will also work with police, as I have throughout my career, to ensure we are keeping Manhattan safe so that everyone can thrive. I will ensure open collaboration and communication by ensuring our office is transparent in all that we do and that we are using data driven methods to advance safety. I will also ensure that we increase the staffing capacity in several key bureaus, such as the Bureau of Gender Based Violence, to help reduce case backlog and to fix the police’s currently low clearance rate.
What is your vision for the Sex Crimes Bureau and what changes will you implement, if any?
A centerpiece of my policy platform for Manhattan District Attorney, and an important part of why I decided to run for this office, is to lead a wholesale transformation of the borough’s response to gender-based violence.
Sexual violence – including sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence – is pervasive, underreported, and under-prosecuted across the country; leading studies indicate that more than half of incidents of sexual violence are not reported, and when they are, survivors report widespread dissatisfaction with law enforcement.
I intend to build a Bureau of Gender-Based Violence that works alongside and in partnership with other government and non-government actors whose work is critical to meeting survivors’ needs.
My BGBV will be guiding by these core principles (which you can read about more in depth here):
- Victims and survivors come first, and my priority is to make sure they are comfortable reporting their experiences of gender-based violence.
- Investigations will take a victim-centered, offender-focused approach. During investigations, the office will take care not to traumatize victims a second time. Victims will never be treated as targets, and prosecutors will take seriously the obligation to keep victims informed and involved at every stage. When interacting with victims, prosecutors will demonstrate flexibility, sensitivity, and empathy. The office will investigate credible allegations with vigor, focusing on the offender’s actions and intent – not the victim’s behavior.
- Prosecutors will receive regular training in best practices, including trauma-informed interviewing, implicit bias, changing legal landscapes, the availability of survivor resources, and the needs of noncitizens.
- The office will strive to improve its handling of cases with special challenges to investigation and prosecution: drug-facilitated sexual assaults, cyber stalking, nonconsensual pornography, and other complicated cases.
- Prosecutors will approach gender-based violence with moral courage. Prosecutorial decisions must be driven by evidence, a commitment to pursuing justice in the individual case, and a commitment to securing the community’s long-term safety – not by the odds of securing a conviction. The office will thoroughly investigate all reports, closely engage with victims, and use experts and appropriate resources to make informed decisions about how to proceed.
- Conviction rates will not be the benchmark of a good prosecutor and a successful bureau, because this has historically prevented prosecutors from trying hard cases. ● BGBV office practices will be research- and data-informed.
- The bureau will be open to deploying innovative strategies that protect and prevent further violence, including community and restorative justice initiatives as alternatives to incarceration.
- The office will audit and update initiatives and procedures regularly, reflect changing best practices, and respond to findings or recommendations of internal reviews.
Do you pledge to release the statistics on the total number of complaints of sexual assault your office receives and of those, how many result in indictments? Also, what is your definition of an acquaintance, and how will you distinguish between a stranger rape and an acquaintance rape?
Public information on DANY’s response to gender-based violent crimes is remarkably limited: the office does not release an annual report or publish data related to incidents reported, indictments obtained, and sentences secured, let alone more granular details about the specific crimes in question. DANY’s Domestic Violence Task Force, formed in 2014, has not issued a progress report on recommendations it made in 2016.
This lack of information makes it difficult to assess accurately DANY’s response to these crimes, or develop substantive plans for improvement. Increased transparency is also always essential to strengthening community confidence in the criminal justice system and especially so in the prosecution of gender-based violence, given reporting over the last few years documenting public skepticism about how these cases are handled.
Central to the BGBV will be an analytics unit to track comprehensively all NYPD sex crimes and domestic violence reports, alongside substantive information on DANY investigations and prosecutions. This data collection effort will help assess office success and facilitate adjustments to policies or procedures with documented failures. The BGBV analytics unit will source applicable data from law enforcement, office records, and other institutions that track sexual assault and domestic violence data in Manhattan. Early efforts will focus on:
- Accurately determining the current rate of case attrition – the rate at which cases are lost or dropped.
- Analyzing and synthesizing results of the community survey.
- Establishing effective measures for evaluating successes and failures on both an individual ADA and bureau-wide basis.
Ultimately, my goal is to make gender-based violence data – such as the number of assaults reported to the office, indictments obtained, pleas or convictions secured, and victim and offender demographics data – available to the public. Ideally, once the structure for disclosure is set, the data can be continuously updated to the public in real time or as close as practicable.
I think that just as it is important to get a better handle on what is happening at the office, we need to understand better the experience of gender-based violence in the borough. Therefore, I will start my tenure with a formal community survey designed to identify current system failings and successes. The survey will source quantitative data and descriptive feedback, and include opportunities to propose concrete and specific changes to DANY practices. I will seek input from as many affected parties as possible besides, of course, victims – including defense counsel, convicted people, university administrators and college students, bar and nightclub operators, local advocates, and law enforcement agencies and officers. The survey findings, along with hard data culled with help from a BGBV analytics unit, will be used to direct office reforms.
As for the question about acquaintance versus stranger rape, rape allegations will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted regardless of the perpetrator. I know that law enforcement officials have often failed to understand and appreciate violence that occurs within a relationship (or work environment) to which the survivor consented. I hope to usher in a change in attitude, culture, commitment, and moral courage with regard to how the office understands consent and investigates and prosecutes.
What standards of evidence will you establish in determining whether or not to move forward on rape or sexual assault prosecution? How will victims’ concerns and goals factor into these decisions?
Currently, it seems some cases do not move forward because of lack of competence, lack of will, lack of understanding of the harm, or an assessment about the odds of securing a conviction. We have to bring the hard cases. Conviction rates will not be the benchmark of a good prosecutor and a successful bureau – here or elsewhere in the office. They do not always reflect difficult cases that were not charged or tried but should have been, and – particularly in the case of gender-based violence – do not reflect other issues that can influence results before a case even makes it to prosecutors. (For example, DANY’s Sex Crime Unit claims an 83 percent felony conviction rate as evidence of its success. But there is a notable discrepancy between that high percentage of trial “wins” and the NYPD much lower rape clearance rate of 28.1 percent.)
In general, prosecutors should not weed out cases based on a perception they could be difficult to win. That is why I will develop new markers to evaluate the work of its individual ADAs, as well as new evaluation standards across DANY. In the Sex Crimes, Domestic Violence and other BGBV units, the community survey will be integral to what success looks like on an individual case-level. Evaluations must consider the complexity of individual cases, victim experience with the process, and alignment with broader office priorities. All unit programs and policies will be regularly audited and updated to reflect new research and promising developments in other jurisdictions.
What do you see as the greatest obstacle in the successful prosecution of rape and sexual assault cases?
The crisis in gender-based violence reflects many failures: failure sometimes to understand the harm this violence causes; failure to listen to and respond to survivors’ voices; failure to fund fully and appreciate organizations that support and care for victims; failure to address systemic problems like poverty and racism that manifest in this kind of violence against the most vulnerable; failure to provide housing alternatives for those suffering abuse; and failure on the part of law enforcement to protect victims, hold abusers to account, and prevent further violence. Tragically, the most vulnerable often bear the brunt of these failures; Black trans women are assaulted at alarmingly high rates. Law enforcement cannot address the crisis alone, but we must do our part and do it well.
Increasing the capabilities and skill sets of my Bureau of Gender-Based Violence ADAs is a top priority. Prosecutors will have access to training that improves response to victims and advances the pursuit of justice and healing. This specialized education includes:
- Trauma-informed training for all ADAs to ensure that the reporting process does not inflict further harm on victims.
- Ongoing instruction in cognitive interviewing, aimed at improving witness interviews.
- Culture and gender-sensitivity training to improve attorney response to sexual assaults in the LGBTQ, Gender Nonconforming, Black, Latinx, Asian, and immigrant and non-citizen communities.
- Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview training.
- DV prosecutor training in the proper use of the Danger Assessment Tool.
- DV prosecutor training in methods to better recognize, investigate, and prosecute strangulation cases.
- Training in how to investigate and pursue prosecutions of stalking, cybercrime, non-consensual pornography, and digital harassment cases.
If you support the decriminalization of the sex trade, would you want to establish a designated zone for commercial sex? How would you reduce the targeting and recruitment of underage girls, especially girls of color, into the commercial sex trade which is likely to increase under full decriminalization?
I don’t support full decriminalization. I support Senator Liz Kreuger’s “Sex Trade Survivors Act.”
Some candidates in this race support repeal of the promoting prostitution statute from the penal code. Are you aware that the promoting prostitution statute is frequently used to investigate sex trafficking, and that it enables prosecutors to identify trafficking victims and prosecute their exploiters?
As I said, I don’t support full decriminalization. I do not support the decriminalization of promoting prostitution, and agree that repealing the crime of promoting would undermine our ability to identify victims and their abusers and would hamper our ability to make trafficking cases. I support Senator Liz Kreuger’s “Sex Trade Survivors Act” and the balance of safety and fairness that her approach represents.
What is your plan to better protect DV victims, especially in light of new discovery rules, when there is no prosecution?
As I mentioned, protecting and listening to victims will be absolutely integral to everything my new Bureau of Gender-Based Violence does. As in the case for the Brooklyn Domestic Violence Bureau, my Domestic Violence Unit in Manhattan will give space to the nonprofit and government organizations that support survivors’ needs – from housing to immigration to child care. These services must be available regardless of whether there is prosecution.
For those of you who are calling for defunding the police, how do you envision successfully prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault, and helping to keep victims safe, when many victims call 911 and rely on the NYPD for help?
I have not called to defund the police. I am interested in making sure the police are spending money on the right things and in service of its core mission to protect the most vulnerable among us from harm. For instance, I am deeply troubled that only 1% of police budget is spent on special victims cases, and think that we need to allocate more money for these critical investigations
I also support calls for increased transparency and accountability about police officers’ own records. As I wrote in the Daily News, I am concerned by reports that police families have 2-4x higher domestic violence rates. We must know who is policing our streets, and I will demand transparency so that anyone who engages in violence at home is not policing our streets.