The Brooklyn Bar Association and the Kings County Criminal Lawyers Association hosted a special reception for Breon Peace, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday evening. Peace is shown here with Gregory LaSpina (left) and Michael Farkas (right). Photo: Robert Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle Eagle photos by Robert Abruzzese
United States Attorney Breon Peace is not a regular member of the Brooklyn Bar Association. However, he had barely walked through the door still waving to people when he saw a lawyer he had grown up with growing up in Crown Heights.
Peace took a quick look at that attorney, Kenneth Montgomery, and revealed two things: that despite his high-profile work, Peace is in fact a Brooklynite, and this is not Donald Trump’s US attorney.
Montgomery was an assistant district attorney for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, but these days he is known as a prolific defense attorney. Just a week earlier, Montgomery was in the same building bragging about how he could beat the US Attorney’s Office and was giving advice to other lawyers on how to do it.
Suddenly, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York embraced the person who was giving advice on how to beat him with a friendly hug.
“I always thought that at some point in my career I would return to Brooklyn, which is the center of the universe in my mind,” Peace said.
Peace, who grew up in Crown Heights, graduated from Clara Barton High School and eventually New York University School of Law. Her legal career began as a law clerk for US District Court Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr.
He began working at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in 1996 as an associate doing defense work after a stint as an Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District from 1999 to 2002. Peace returned to Cleary Gottlieb and he eventually became the first black person to be named a partner there in 2007.
On August 10, 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Peace to take office as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which serves Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 5, 2021, and sworn in by Chief Justice Margo Brodie on October 15, 2021.
The last federal prosecutor was appointed by Donald Trump, focused on gang violence on Long Island, spoke often about MS 13 and glorified harsh sentences in headlines. However, this federal prosecutor cited time representing a wrongfully convicted individual who had spent more than 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
“We are committed to doing it the right way: Our approach is to do things fairly, ethically, and with a focus on doing things that are not biased in any way, whether it be racial or political, or out of fear or favor of someone, and doing it . with compassion and empathy,” said US Attorney Peace.
“I know from experience how important and consequential what we do is,” Peace continued. “I know that I have defended people, and particularly I have defended a wrongfully convicted person and worked to get her exonerated after she spent more than 25 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. He teaches you that when a mistake is made, the serious consequences that come with it impact the life of that individual and also the lives of his friends and family in the community. Being fair and making sure you do the right thing is incredibly important.”
Certainly, Peace has not turned its back on cases of gang violence and terrorism, both international and domestic. After all, that’s a big part of the job, but his goal, he explained, is to prosecute all crimes holistically. He is passionate about his civilian teams in that regard.
“A lot of people think of us as a criminal prosecution office, which we do a lot, but we also have a strong civil divide and we’re trying to use those tools to take action to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, including people who were injured. neglected, ignored and abused,” Peace said. “We have a civil rights team and an environmental justice team in our civil division, which I’m proud of because it’s the first for any US Attorney’s Office in the country. Last March we also created a Consumer Protection team”.
The event was organized by the Brooklyn Bar Association and its Committee on Federal Courts, and was co-sponsored by the Kings County Criminal Lawyers Association. Michael Farkas, former KCCBA President, moderated the hour-long question and answer session.
Two of the biggest questions Farkas had for Peace were about discovery and alternative sentencing. Peace’s responses to the discovery at one point drew a harsh response from Farkas, but Peace assured him that his office instructs prosecutors to use his discretion and try to have as fair trials as possible. Farkas was much happier to hear Peace’s response to the alternative sentence.
Peace explained that, when possible, his office tries to use its discretion when collecting, as well as use pre-trial and post-trial diversion programs. Two programs that Peace said he liked were the Pretrial Opportunity Program (POP) and the Special Options Services (SOS) program.
“The Pretrial Opportunity Program targets people who have addictions to drugs or alcohol and the Special Options Services program targets young people between the ages of 18 and 24,” Peace said. “Those programs are designed to help certain people and give them the opportunity to complete their programs and at the end it is determined if there is a different provision. We have dismissed cases of people who have successfully completed those programs, we have reduced the charges, we have also recommended non-jail sentences.”