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New York Governor Expected To OK Panel Overseeing Prosecutors


Today, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is expected to sign a bill that would create the nation's first independent oversight board for prosecutors. Now, this comes on the heels of several scandals in local district attorney's offices and also concerns about wrongful convictions. But as North Country Public Radio's Lauren Rosenthal reports, prosecutors are vowing to fight this.

LAUREN ROSENTHAL, BYLINE: New York has one of the worst track records in the nation when it comes to wrongful convictions, with 250 exonerations in the last 30 years and signs of prosecutorial misconduct, like withholding evidence or violating ethics, in about a third of those cases. John DeFrancisco is a New York state senator and former prosecutor himself. He says they're some of the most powerful figures in the justice system.

JOHN DEFRANCISCO: Over time, it's been pretty obvious that people have gone to jail for long periods of time in New York state and the taxpayers have paid settlements for wrongful conduct of prosecutors.

ROSENTHAL: It took years, but this spring, DeFrancisco finally convinced New York's lawmakers to establish a new kind of watchdog. The governor and legislative leaders would appoint nearly a dozen people with legal backgrounds to investigate possible misconduct by prosecutors. Any findings would be made public. Rebecca Brown is policy director for the Innocence Project. In most places, Brown says, investigating prosecutors is a slow, secretive process.

REBECCA BROWN: Prosecutors are really facing little, if any, repercussions through those grievance systems. There's great interest in, you know, seeing what unfolds here in New York state because it really could serve as a model for the country.

DAVID SOARES: Quite honestly, I'm shocked that it's gotten this far.

ROSENTHAL: David Soares is president of New York's statewide District Attorney Association (ph). They believe the oversight board is unconstitutional, that it would make it easier for defendants to complain about cases that don't go their way and tougher for prosecutors to investigate corruption. Right now, Soares says...

SOARES: We're hoping for the best. We're also planning for the worst.

ROSENTHAL: Soares says he's ready to file a lawsuit. Governor Andrew Cuomo has until midnight to issue a veto. Otherwise, the bill automatically becomes law. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Rosenthal in northern New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUNWISE'S "GET THE BLESSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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