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District Attorney of New York County Robert Morgenthau Testifies at Judge Sotomayor's Confirmation Hearings

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Thursday, July 16, 2009 4:01 PM

ACTING CHAIRMAN: Mayor Bloomberg, thank you very much for your testimony.

We'll now hear from Robert Morgenthau. Mr. Morgenthau has been the district attorney of New York County since 1975 and is the longest-serving incumbent of that position. During his nine terms in office, his staff has conducted about 3.5 million criminal prosecutions in homicides in Manhattan and has been -- and has a rate of 90 percent success. A graduate of Yale Law School, District Attorney Morgenthau served aboard a naval destroyer through World War II.

It's a real pleasure to have you before our committee.

MORGENTHAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity of testifying today. I am pleased to join those who endorse the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

I first came to know Judge Sotomayor when I was on a recruiting trip for the Yale Law School. At that time, Jose Febrenes (ph) was Yale's general counsel, and he also tailored the law school.

I asked him if he knew anyone special I should speak with, and he said, yes. He said the remarkable student named Sonia Sotomayor was deciding where to work. And while he did not know whether she'd given any thought to being a prosecutor, it would be well worth my while to meet her. He was decidedly correct.

I'm happy to be able to say that the judge joined my office and remained with us for five years. In my conversations with her, I learned about the compelling story of her life, with which you are now familiar.

MORGENTHAU: In a nutshell, she was raised by a mother in a working-class home in South Bronx and as a teenager worked the evening shift in a garment factory to help make ends meet. She went on through hard work, force of will to overcome her initial difficulties with English composition to win Princeton University's highest undergraduate honor, the Pine Prize and to graduate with honors from the Yale Law School.

In the district attorney's office, the Judge was immediately recognized by trial (inaudible) supervisors as someone a step ahead of her colleagues, one of the brightest and most mature, hard-working, standout who was marked for rapid advancement. Ultimately, she took on every kind of criminal case that comes into an urban courthouse, from turnstile-jumping to homicide.

One of those cases, the Tarzan murder case, involved an addicted burglar named Richard Maddicks, who would terrorize the neighborhood during a crime spree that left three dead and involved his swinging into apartment windows from rooftops, shooting anyone in his way. He is now serving 137 years to life sentence.

Another case prosecuted by Assistant D.A. Sotomayor in 1983 involved a Times Square child pornography operation. That was the first child prosecution in New York after a landmark 1982 Supreme Court decision, People v. Ferber, upholding New York's new child pornography laws. Assistant D.A. Sotomayor left the jurors in tears over what the defendants had done to child victims.

These cases happened to grab the public's attention. But Judge Sotomayor -- Assistant D.A. Sotomayor understood that every case is important to the victim and appropriately gave undivided attention to the proper disposition of all of them.

Assistant District Attorney Sotomayor soon developed a reputation. Unlike many prosecutors, she simply would not be pushed around by judges or by attorneys. Some judges were eager to dispose of cases cheaply to clear their calendars. ADA Sotomayor instead fought for the right conclusion in each case. Maybe that experience from the criminal court in New York City helped her prepare for these hearings.

After leaving my office, Judge Sotomayor joined a prominent law firm and also accepted a part-time appointment as a member of the New York City Campaign Finance. While there, she continued to earn a reputation for being tough, fair, non-political in an arena where those characteristics were sorely needed. And she has taken those characteristics with her to the federal bench, where they are equally important.

Judge Sotomayor's career in the law spans three decades, and she has worked in almost every level of our judicial system -- prosecutor, private litigator, trial court judge, and an appellate court judge, and what I think is the second-most important court in the world. She has been an able champion of the law, and her depth of experience will be invaluable on our highest court.

Judge Sotomayor is highly qualified for any position in which a first-rate intellect, common sense, collegiality and good character would be assets. I might add that the judge will be the only member of the Supreme Court with experience trying criminal cases in the state courts. The overwhelming majority of American prosecutions occur in state courts.

MORGENTHAU: Judge Sotomayor will bring to the court a full understanding of the problems faced by prosecutors in those cases as well as a firsthand knowledge of the trauma faced by victims and of the legitimate needs of police officials that work in the state law enforcement system.

She will also understand the impact of federal judicial decisions on state prosecutions. In short, the judge is uniquely qualified by until that, experience and commitment to the rule of law to be an outstanding -- and I repeat outstanding -- member of the court.

President Obama, and for that matter the United States, should be proud to see once more the realization of that central American credo that in this country a hard-working person with talent can rise from humble beginnings to one of the highest positions in the land.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify today.

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