By Shayna Jacobs
MUNICIPAL DISTRICT — The Manhattan District Attorney's office must hand over two multi-defendant white-collar cases to an outside prosecutor because Cyrus Vance Jr. was a defense attorney on the cases before he was elected the city's top prosecutor.
It is not unusual for a prosecutor to make a request to be replaced by a "special district attorney," but this situation is unique because Vance is the first new DA in Manhattan in 35 years.
As a private sector attorney at Manhattan firm Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello & Bohrer, the new district attorney had been counsel on two 2009 cases — worth a combined $6.8 million in alleged fraud — that were pursued by his predecessor Robert Morgenthau.
The first case is against Joseph Stevens and Company, a now-defunct securities firm accused of illegally profiting $6.2 million by withholding their clients' stock purchases and "manipulating" the market.
Vance had also represented the owner of M.A. Angeliades, a general contractor charged with underpaying workers hired for MTA-related construction jobs.
The two cases, both indictments that were announced by Morgenthau last year, are currently the only conflicts stemming from Vance's resignation from his private sector employment when he was elected DA on Nov. 3, according to his office.
Vance had been a senior partner at his old firm since 2004. The Manhattan firm has 55 attorneys and an active white-collar criminal practice, according to its Web site.
Although all criminal cases are handled directly by the more than 500 assistant prosecutors in the office, Vance's peripheral involvement as the general overseer of most criminal actions in New York County meant his office would have to request "special district attorneys" to assume the litigation.
The need to appoint special prosecutors is commonplace, according to Vance's spokesperson, Erin Duggan.
"This is fairly routine," Duggan said. "If the DA of any prosecutor has a conflict, he or she asks for a recusal."
Such requests are made when there is a direct or ancillary possible conflict, such as a case where a prosecutor was the victim of a crime.
In order to avoid the perception of unfair treatment, New York State law allows for the appointment of an outside prosecutor, often an assistant district attorney from another county.
The DA's office submitted the request for the appointment of special prosecutors to the Joseph Stevens and Angeliades cases in writing to Ann Pfau, the state's chief administrative judge of the courts.
The application is now before the first department of the state's Appellate Division, and the assigned judge has yet to select the new prosecutors or issue a formal ruling.
Though necessary, the special prosecutor request is an inconvenience to the defendants and the other attorneys involved, said defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo, who is coincidentally working on both of the cases in question.
"We feel like the Manhattan DAs office handled the case well, and I think we made good progress for a resolution," Agnifilo said of the Angeliades case.
Joshua Dratel, who represents the company M.A. Angeliades as a named defendant, said he doesn't consider it a major complication.
"Obviously it is something that has to be done by the court," Dratel said. "It is what it is."