EDITORIAL: GALLIGAN HAS OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE CULTURE OF HER OFFICE BUT WILL SHE?
While supporters of Meagan Galligan are rightfully celebrating her election victory, making her the first female District Attorney in County history, she faces some serious challenges beginning January 1.
Although she campaigned heavily on being more involved in the community than her former boss, Jim Farrell, there's still a belief among segments of the community that Galligan sometimes played politics with the law and is tone deaf on race and diversity issues.
Exhibit 1: the deaths of two teenagers in Rock Hill when they were struck on June 2, 2019 with retired Town of Fallsburg Judge Isaac Kantrowitz behind the wheel. Galligan told the world at very brief news conference on August 25 that Kantrowitz was only traveling at 62 mph in a 45 mph zone. But the State Police accident reconstruction report - published by The SullivanTimes - included an affidavit from Trooper Jesse Flanagan that Kantrowitz was going 70 mph right before impact. Galligan has maintained that the law prohibited her from charging Kantrowitz with more than the misdemeanor he was charged with, but that is not true according to a heavily researched article by Touro Law School (previously published here).
Exhibit 2: At a time when DA's across the United States, including a vast majority of those who are Democrats, have spoken the words "Black Lives Matter," Galligan won't. You CAN support police and still understand why many DA's and other law enforcement chiefs in the United States issued statements on this important issue in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. Sullivan County Democratic Committee chair Steve Vegliante, in fact, was one of the first in the state to issue a strong statement acknowledging systematic racism in this country and affirming support for the BLM movement. That statement was hailed in Albany, too. And it was Vegliante who cleared the path for Galligan - not only to secure the Democratic endorsement - but to also receive the endorsement of the Republican Party leaders.
Exhibit 3: Galligan has no people of color as assistant district attorneys, something her former boss never dealt with. But it's made worse by the fact that Jim Farrell hired -and Galligan thus far has retained - Gerard Dietz as the DA's chief investigator. Dietz, of course, has a long history of facing lawsuits alleging police brutality in which he was regularly accused of being racist while employed by the Village of Monticello Police in the 1990s. And during this recent campaign, Galligan was silent as Dietz took on the role, unofficially, as an online hit man, as he spent many hours bashing LaBuda and those who supported or endorsed him.
Galligan won the election fairly, of course, but now the real work begins.
Will she change the culture of her office that too often let people of influence and wealth like Kantrowitz and Alan Berman avoid being prosecuted like anyone else? Let's hope that she quietly told others that she would be better than Farrell on "equal justice under the law" issues like these two cases illustrate - since she is no longer under Farrell's microscope or Lungen's influence, period. (Lungen, though, did endorse her in a widely circulated attack on LaBuda even though he has a pending case opposite Galligan in his representation of Kantrowitz).
And with the election behind her, will she sincerely search for a person (s) of color as one of her future ADA's? Will Dietz, with his history, approve of such a hire?
Galligan also has to tackle a dismal record of prosecuting hate crimes in this County.
Will Galligan show the moral leadership expected from a DA if swastikas are painted in Sullivan as they were in Cochecton and Narrowsburg in the summer of 2019? And why did she NOT prosecute Parksville's Joe Peters with any hate crime penalties attached to his recent indictment? There was plenty of evidence over the past five years that Peters used anti-gay slurs against his neighbors there.
Finally, Galligan formed a very strong bond with law enforcement during the campaign that has put their trust in her. Of course, that happed thanks to the Sheriff and Undersheriff playing giant roles in her election success.
However, there's a huge concern here that, if serious allegations are ever raised about any criminal activity by a member of the police community, that Galligan will treat that defendant differently because he or she wears a badge.
The rank and file police in this County are committed to their jobs and do it well. But their bosses need to stay the heck out of local politics so that the public can fully trust that all law enforcement decisions - from police, to the DA's Office to judges - focus only on achieving justice that is fair and that reflects the will of the people.