The Other New York Mafia

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These are the prosecutors of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The agency, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, was celebrating its 225th birthday, so naturally its alumni had decided to hold a party.

One thing soon became apparent: This was no ordinary reunion.

A great many former AUSAs go on to positions of significant power. A great many become judges. And the few who fell to earth, failing to reach the exalted achievements of their brethren, go to remind the others that they were once part of the tribe.

She ran into David N. Kelley, who had helped convict Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the terrorist who led the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Then there was Judge Denny Chin, who sentenced Bernard L. Madoff to 150 years in prison, and once worked in the office’s civil division. Then came Mary Jo White, the only woman to serve as Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor and who was now the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Among the guests were Robert M. Morgenthau, who served as United States attorney in the 1960s before becoming Manhattan’s longtime district attorney; Michael B. Mukasey, a former United States attorney general; Deirdre M. Daly, the United States attorney for Connecticut; and about 20 current federal judges. There was also a former judge, Barbara S. Jones, one of the gala’s organizers, who has been named to hear the appeal by Ray Rice, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, of the National Football League’s decision to suspend him over his domestic abuse case.

This barely scratches the surface of who was there, what they did and what they do now. How they intersect and interconnect, and what distinguishes them from, well, everyone else.  It’s one hell of a club.

Not too long ago, I appeared before a judge on a matter that challenged a ruling by another judge.  These are always sticky affairs, given that judges show each other deference, and I anticipated the usual issues. What I was surprised to hear from the judge presiding was his advising that both he and the judge who was the subject of the action were friends from their office reunions. Both had been federal prosecutors, though in different decades. Still, they were part of the club, and that was enough to bind them together.

There is nothing inherently wrong with former prosecutors having their own club, dressing up in finery and sharing stories of how many people who were not members of the club they put behind bars.  But there is something unseemly about all of this.

From what I’m told by friends who break the rule of Omerta, it’s not that they do favors for one another. Much as that’s a fantasy some like to promote, to suggest they can perform magic because of their connections, it’s not the case. But the benefit they do enjoy is a certain tolerance of each other, a tacit presumption of credibility. They will give each other the benefit of the doubt. They lend each other a helping hand, provided the hand doesn’t grasp too much.

While I assume that most prosecutors’ offices have similar reunions, similar clubs, what distinguishes SDNY is how many of its members are in positions of great authority, in the executive and judicial branches.  There is probably no other group, save perhaps Skull & Bones, that has its fingers on the steering wheel of America as much as this one.

It looks like a very nice party.  I can’t help but wonder what they talked about, but I’m fairly confident that it wasn’t concerns over police misconduct, wrongful convictions or the sad state of jobs for young lawyers.

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