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Veteran District Attorney Gives Low Grades To News Media

Onondaga District Attorney Website

District Attorney William Fitzpatrick of Onondaga County (Syracuse), N.Y., does not think highly of media coverage of his profession. "Most journalists I would give low grades to, Cs or Ds," he says in an interview with the organization CITIZENARTS.

"You hear just moronic things," says Fitzpatrick, who is in his eighth term as chief county prosecutor. "And then it seems mandatory that a lot of the networks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, whatever it is, will interview Joe Blow, former federal prosecutor. It's a different world in the federal system. 95% of the violent crime in America is prosecuted at the state local level. And you very rarely see qualified.people talk about it."

Fitzpatrick says there are exceptions, like Dan Abrams. "He's very knowledgeable about the law. Dave Aronberg in West Palm Beach. He's frequently on MSNBC, and he's an elected DA, very

knowledgeable about the system. Jeanine Pirro (of) Westchester, former DA. She understands

the system and she can talk about it. Sometimes it's difficult to get complicated concepts out to a TV

audience based on the limitations you have, usually time."

For himself, Fitzpatrick says he is accessible to local news media. "They all have my cell phone number and my email address, and I try to keep them educated because it's important to me," he says. "They're my method of

communicating to 500,000 people. I'm not a big social media guy, and I can't send an email out to

500,000 people."

Fitzpatrick is a supporter of developing a set of best practices for prosecutors in a state.

He says, "You bring together the best minds in the state on a particular criminal justice issue, and you come up with uniform practices that apply to every jurisdiction in that state. Let me give you an example. Identification issues.

"I'm not a fan of a prosecution based solely on stranger eyewitness identification. It can result in wrongful

convictions. I just exonerated a gentleman who spent 16 years in state prison for a crime he didn't

commit. That was based in part on eyewitness identification.

"I established through the best practices committee, uniform identification procedures throughout New York, and I think that has prevented wrongful convictions.

"A second thing I did was create an ethics committee. Prosecutors have to be the leaders, not the followers in creating ethical standards. Now we started a New York State DA's Association ethics advisory opinion. If you have a situation where you're unsure how to act on a case, there's a number you can call and you get immediate feedback from line prosecutors, who in all likelihood have encountered this situation before."

Asked about jury trials, Fitzpatrick said, "Most cases are won by jury selection. So when I pick a jury, I'm asking

myself this: If I never was a trial lawyer, if I just met this person, would I want to sit down and talk to

them? Would I want to play a round a golf with them? Would I want to have a beer with them? Would I

want to have dinner with them? Are they relating to me? Do they like me? Do they respect me? Are they

answering the questions? Most of the time it's an amazing system. Most of the time juries get it right."


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