Over the last few years, many of us have seen a profuse number of negative newspaper articles about Adam Levy, the unflinching Putnam County district attorney running for reelection this fall. However, these front page stories have not focused on the conduct of his office—internal politics, major cases or ongoing investigations—but on Levy himself, and the controversies which surround him, seriously impugning his reputation.
Elected in 2008, Levy is an outspoken and provocative prosecutor who, on one hand, has revitalized a moribund district attorney’s office rife with political favoritism; yet, on the other, has gotten into a long-term and spiteful relationship with Don Smith, the powerful Putnam County Sheriff. From the beginning, Levy’s tactics—insisting on the videotaping of interrogations; requiring that Social Service Law regarding child abuse be complied with; and more—have annoyed Smith, and their relationship has slowly devolved into open verbal sparring and conflicting personal lawsuits.
At the most recent center of the Levy/Smith battle is the 2013 arrest and prosecution of Levy’s personal trainer—and the boyfriend of his children’s nanny—for the rape of a young girl in 2010. Smith accused Levy of interfering in the case; Levy accused Smith of manipulating facts. The accused was found not guilty after a trial by jury in the spring of 2014, having spent almost a full year in jail.
I received an email from Mr. Levy about two weeks ago, asking if I’d be interested in writing a “factually accurate news story about [his] reelection campaign.” So, last Thursday, I spent better than two hours talking to Adam Levy, at his office in Carmel, about a whole host of issues. I found him to be open and caring, and passionate about his job. He spoke about his family and his professional achievements.
Born in Brooklyn, Levy was raised and attended public high school in the Bronx. He worked at lots of odd jobs through his youth, from cleaning toilets in restaurants, to being a busboy on City Island, to hawking peanuts at Yankee Stadium. He’s a graduate of SUNY Albany, received his law degree from Hofstra University, and began his career on Long Island working for the Suffolk County District Attorney. This is a self-made guy who had already begun to establish himself well before his mother became a reality TV personality.
Levy was quite candid in his remarks and surprised me several times by expressing opinions that might be unpopular with his conservative political base. He is pro-choice; believes government has the responsibility to deal with climate change proactively; would equally enforce all of the provisions of the Safe Act, except for magazine size; believes that employers should be legally required to pay men and women equally who perform the same work; and supports the legalization of medical marijuana. This is a guy with guts!
When I listened to my recording of the full interview, I realized that I had an enormous amount of information, way too much to fit comfortably into one reasonably-sized article. The following excerpt is a piece of the conversation that I believe captures Levy’s character and passion:
Kosberg: You lost the Republican primary by a substantial margin; the powers-that-be seem to be gunning for you. Now, you’re depending on the Independence and Conservative lines to win. What’s going on?
Levy: I’m not the type of DA that [just] once every four years [promises] to prosecute the guilty without fear and without favor [and] protect the victims; and, then, every opportunity in the three years between election cycles, deals are cut left and right for [his] own political advantage.
To me, it’s disgusting. Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. My mother and my father were both middle-class, hardworking lawyers. My mom was a prosecutor in NYC who excelled at her job and became a judge during the Koch administration. She couldn’t stomach any [baloney] or poor practice in her courtroom then, same as now.
I’m a believer in the criminal justice system. I legitimately and truthfully believe that if the police do the job that they’re supposed to do; and the assistant district attorney and district attorney do the job that they are supposed to do; and the defense attorneys do the job that they are supposed to do; and the judges do the jobs that they’re supposed to do; the juries will get it right all the time.
It’s when one of those groups doesn’t do the right thing for the wrong reasons that the system becomes corrupt and justice fails. I have little tolerance for carelessness or dishonesty, though it happened regularly before I was first elected. A confession is forced or coerced; evidence is planted; the police strong-arm a statement from a co-conspirator; the DA’s office fails to turn over exculpatory material; someone is prosecuted for political reasons as payback, which I’ve seen; or, defense attorneys are negligent in their duties and don’t spend the time necessary to read the facts and prepare the case.
Before I became the District Attorney, there wasn’t that necessary degree of professionalism and preparedness that should have been required of both the prosecutors and the police. In addition, judges were trying cases or issuing decisions for reasons other than the fair and impartial administration of justice because they were worried about being reelected at the end of their four, 10 or 14 year cycle. Bad things happened! And it makes me sick to think that this could happen again.
I know that this goes on in other places, but I thought that once I was elected I’d be able to control it better here. I’d be able to make sure that justice is actually served in Putnam—prosecuting the guilty; exonerating the innocent; and protecting our victims. That’s what we should be doing all the time, without regard for politics—who you are, who you know, what political party you belong to, or how much money someone donates [to your campaign] and, therefore, is expecting something in return.
For the system to work the way it should, people need to do their jobs—the elected and the appointees. I don’t play in that [favors] sandbox. I never have. Is it because I have a certain comfort level and a safety net under me so that I don’t need the job or the pension? There is something to be said for self-funded, very independent politicians who, at the end of the day, do what they believe is right. No one pulls their strings. They don’t cow tow to any group, whatsoever. I don’t care who you are, or who you know. That is the way I’ve run this office, and that makes people nervous.
I drove away from the interview experiencing Adam Levy as a person who is willing to fight for what he believes, unafraid of the consequences, as he zealously seeks reelection. However, given that politics is a blood sport, will his public quarrel with the highly influential Sheriff ultimately do him in? That remains to be seen.