The primary race for Albany County District Attorney has emerged as a battle to watch on Tuesday – and not only if you live in Albany County.
The incumbent, David Soares, was elected in 2004 as a reform candidate who called for dismantling the Rockefeller Drug Laws. But over his tenure, Soares has become unapologetic in his criticism of both bail and discovery reform – issues that have seen renewed interest in the wake of mass demonstrations against police brutality in communities of color sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
Soares’ challenger used to work for him. Matt Toporowski is now the outsider that David Soares was in 2004. It’s Toporowski that now has the progressive movement’s stamp of the approval as the Working Families Party candidate.
Toporowski seemed to be riding a wave of good will, and good timing as a candidate who supports both bail and discovery reform as well as a Prosecutorial Conduct Commission. But he was recently caught by the Albany Times Union making misleading statements. When asked if he had ever been disciplined while working in Soares’ office, Toporowski dodged and evaded, but an assistant district attorney who currently works for Soares told the paper that Toporowski was indeed suspended for a week in 2014 after a photo appeared on social media showing him and two female Albany Law School students mimicking a sex act.
This week, the Times Union threw its endorsement behind Soares.
Toporowski was asked by Capital Tonight if he admitted to being disciplined when working as an ADA.
"Let’s clear the air on this actually, Susan. Because what we’re talking about here is an innocuous photo from a long time ago. The reality is, when I was called in to speak with the DA on that photo, this is exactly what he said to me, he said, he said two things, one, he said, ‘You know, you gotta be careful with photos like this because if you run for office it could come back to haunt you.’ And then he slipped it in a personnel file. And then he told me to take a week off, and so, if that was discipline than that was discipline.”
When asked if it was innocuous, why not just come clean about it, Toporowski said, “Well, because this interview with the Times Union was not a normal sit-down interview that I’ve had with a lot of reporters during this campaign. What it was, was a reporter calling me between two events I had to go to and telling me I could answer ‘yes or no’ to his questions and in court this is called leading the witness. And the purpose of that is to get the responses you want to write the story you want. So, I quickly realized this reporter was simply trying to embarrass me, I didn’t want to fall into this trap. And the reality is, we issued a statement later to the reporter about this silly photo, so, the reporter wouldn’t even tell me what the story was about. It was not a typical interview with a journalist and I’ve had many of those.”
Toporowski is also refusing to authorize the release of his personnel file from his years at the district attorney's office because, in his view, "this is actually a document authored by my political opponent used in situations like this."
Toporowski has promised to create new diversion courts and seriously limit requests for bail.
With the Times Union’s endorsement, the race has become a referendum on incumbent David Soares, his tenure, and his ability to move the ball forward when it comes to criminal justice reform.
But over the past few years, Soares, who headed up the District Attorneys' Association of New York State during the height of the debate around criminal justice reform, had been a loud voice against both discovery and bail reform.
In 2018, Soares appeared on the Capitol Pressroom radio show with the NYCLU’s Donna Lieberman. During the interview, Lieberman said bail hurts defendants of color. Soares responded by saying, “The victims of those offenses happen to be neighbors and happen to be loved ones in the same communities.”
When asked by Capital Tonight if his position has changed, Soares responded by saying, "Well, I’d like to correct you for a moment because I’ve been practicing open discovery since I’ve been DA and we generally do not seek bail against people unless they present a clear and present threat to the community. You are absolutely right when you say I disagreed with the reforms of 2019. I’m all for bail reform. I’m all for discovery reform, but the way it was written created chaos," he said.
"85% percent of what was written was excellent, historic in nature, but by removing judicial discretion, I think you saw the collateral consequences of that issue and thankfully, the legislature came back and fixed the very issues that we pointed out," Soares stated.
The Democratic primary election is Tuesday June 23