THE BRONX — The likely new district attorney for The Bronx is a tough but fair judge who holds her co-workers to very high standards, colleagues said.
Darcel Clark, who currently serves as an appellate division judge for the state, was nominated by Bronx Democrats on Sept. 24 to replace outgoing District Attorney Robert Johnson, who the party nominated to become a New York State Supreme Court Justice.
Despite criticism that her selection effectively cut voters out of the picture, as she was nominated through the appointment of Democratic Party leaders rather than through a primary, her colleagues still defended her as an ideal choice for the position.
"I’ve known her since she started," said Alexander Sanchez, a defense attorney in The Bronx. "She’s well respected and well liked among the defense bar. There’s no question about that. She has a nice reputation."
Sanchez worked cases against Clark when she was a prosecutor and argued cases before her during her judgeship, he said.
Dick Dadey, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens Union, agreed that Clark had strong credentials but maintained that party leaders choosing her as their nominee without a primary was not the right way to go about picking a DA candidate.
"The way in which she was chosen is extremely antidemocratic and tarnishes her entry into this office," he said. "For her to have been chosen by a handful of political insiders of the Bronx democratic machine behind closed doors runs counter to the need for this office to be above board and transparent."
Clark graduated from Howard University Law School in 1986 and took a job at the Bronx District Attorney's office that same year.
She spent 13 years in the office, serving as an assistant district attorney in the criminal court and narcotics bureaus, before she was appointed as a judge for the New York City Criminal Court in April 1999.
Clark was then appointed acting justice of the New York State Supreme Court in 2004 before being elected to the court in 2005. She became a designated associate justice for the court's appellate division in November 2012.
“She basically runs a tight courtroom,” said Sanchez. “She wants people to be prepared, and if you’re not prepared, she’ll let you know, and she’ll let the DA know that she’s not satisfied.”
She was willing to give opportunities to defendants, he continued, but she could also be very harsh with them if she felt they were not being honest with her.
“If she feels that the defendant has tried to pull a fast one, then she’ll come down on you like a hammer,” he said.
If she becomes the new DA for The Bronx, Sanchez said he hopes she will work to eliminate the backlog of cases in the court system by teaching her employees to recognize when certain claims are "nonsense" and working to get rid of them.
"I would hope that she would be very aggressive about teaching her district attorneys to flag those type of cases so that they could be eliminated as quickly as possible," he said.
Clark did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said he thought Clark's work as a judge and as an assistant district attorney made her an ideal choice for the Bronx DA position.
"I can’t think of anybody who would’ve been a better candidate than Darcel Clark, and I’m very pleased that she is to be the Democratic candidate," Dinowitz said.
He defended the way Clark was chosen by Democratic Party leaders and dismissed arguments that this would make her reluctant to investigate corruption in the party, maintaining that it is fairly common for politicians to appoint officials ranging from senators to comptrollers when necessary.
"These provisions are invoked more frequently than you might think," he said, "but that doesn’t mean that the person or persons who appoint somebody will be pulling their strings and controlling them."
Sanchez said he understood such concerns but would be surprised if Clark started treating certain politicians with favoritism or blocking certain investigations, as that is not how she has conducted herself so far throughout her legal career.
"I think she would have a real problem trying to engage in that type of political chicanery," he said. "I don’t think she would do it, but that remains to be seen."