90 year old Robert Morgenthau, New York’s legendary District Attorney for 35 years is recently retired, and has already dived into his new role at law firm Wachtall, Lipton, Rosen and Katz where he has committed to fighting for the rights of all immigrants in the United States.
Considered the inspiration for Law & Order, New York’s highest prosecuting office was presided over by Morgenthau, and was responsible for tens of thousands of cases, including many high-profile trials. That’s why, when he speaks of the need to ensure the basic constitutional rights of every single person, particularly those at the margins, we need to pay attention.
In an interview with WNYC, Morganthau did not mince words on expressing his views on the current system.
Brian Lehrer: You’ve also been thinking about immigration law and the interface between criminal courts and immigration courts and immigration detention. This is something you said you were going to work on after your retirement and now you are. What have you been thinking about?
Robert Morgenthau: I think, the way we treat immigrants is a national disgrace and I’m ashamed of what we do. I think anybody who’s here in the United States, legal or illegal, is entitled to the full protection of the law and they’re not getting that. I set up an immigration program in the D.A.’s office and I publicly announced, over half a dozen times, that we would turn nobody over to the Federal authorities, as long as they continued to deprive these undocumented immigrants of their constitutional rights. And it’s a very, very serious problem, and again its a stain on our reputation. There are 2 problems one is the problems with laws themselves, and second is the way they are applied.
Morgenthau also spoke passionately about the need for a fair trial, whether in relation to the trial of 9/11 suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, or to a “friend of the court” brief by the Brennan Center for Justice he recently signed backed by 62 prosecutors who are calling for more funding for indigent defendants. While this particularly applies to the criminal justice system, it is also an acute problem with the immigration system. More than half of of the people in deportation proceedings and 84% of people in detention do not have representation.
Brian Lehrer: Why is a prosecutor arguing for more defense attorneys?
Robert Morgenthau: As a prosecutor, I always slept better at night if i knew the defendant was well represented. I mean, our criminal justice system is an adversary system but for it to work you’ve got to have competent lawyers on both sides of the table… it’s critical to our system of justice.
When those fully immersed in the legal system speak out on the injustice of immigration law, we need to pay attention.
Photo courtesy of www.nytimes.com