Queens Gazette

July 31, 2002

Vallone Jr. Blasts Judge ID Order

Gianaris, Maltese Agree

By John Toscano

City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. meets with police officers patrolling the streets of his 22nd Councilmanic District in Astoria. Vallone Jr. spoke out against Manhattan Judge Dorothy Cropper's ruling that undercover officers must give their names when testifying in open court.   

Bipartisan state legislation to protect undercover cops from being forced to reveal their identities in open court was to be announced today by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. at a City Hall press conference.

The move was triggered by Vallone Jr’s sharp blast at Manhattan Acting State Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Cropper last week ordering three undercover cops to reveal their identities if they wanted to testify in a pending case.

Cropper’s order was refused by the officers and brought a strong protest from state Senator Serphin Maltese, a Queens Republican, who will sponsor Gianaris’ bill in the state Senate.

When Vallone Jr. and Gianaris, both Astoria Democrats, announced the legislation today at City Hall, they were cheered by a coalition of law enforcement organizations led by Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, who had protested the judge’s action with Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

In announcing his legislation, Gianaris, an attorney, said that Cropper’s order, if it stands, not only will endanger undercover officers but will also jeopardize many pending cases if officers refuse to testify using their real identities. "This shouldn't’ be allowed to happen," said Gianaris.

Explaining his bill, he stated: "Although defendants have the right to face their accusers, there is no reason for an undercover officer’s name to be revealed to the general public. By making undercover officers’ names public, we are not only jeopardizing other criminal cases, but endangering the lives of the officers as well as [those of] their families."

The bill will prohibit judges from requiring that undercover officers’ identities be revealed in open court, Gianaris explained, and will still protect a defendant’s right to face his or her accuser, but will ensure that there is no public access to the proceedings.

Commenting on the proposed legislation, Vallone Jr. stated, "Obviously, leaving it to the discretion of a judge doesn’t work all the time, so we need the legislation to assure police officers are protected and they’ll know that when they’re out on the streets doing their jobs, their identity will be safe when they get to court."

When the judge issued her order, Vallone, the city council public safety committee chairman, declared she was wildly misguided in issuing it. "This is one of the most outrageous decisions I’ve ever witness in all my years of practicing law."

Also criticizing the judge sharply, Maltese (R-C, Middle Village) said Cropper had issued an absurd order. He added, "This ruling flies in the face of every principle we have for helping to keep these officers and their families safe."

Both lawmakers are former assistant district attorneys with experience in prosecuting criminal cases.

Vallone explained that judges usually allow undercover officers to protect their identities by testifying after the court has been cleared of spectators. In this case, which involved a homeless man charged with selling $10 bags of cocaine, Cropper had ruled that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had failed to prove that the officers would be endangered if their identities were revealed.

A court transcript said the judge had stated, "I don’t see that a sufficient showing has been made in this case for me to abrogate the right of this defendant to a public trial."

But Vallone Jr. described Cropper’s ruling as "wildly misguided" and said that it endangered the lives and security not only of the officers involved but of the law-abiding citizens they protect as well.

The Astoria lawmaker said, "Judges are there to work with law enforcement and to guarantee the safety and security of New Yorkers--not to make it easier for drug dealers and other criminals to get back on the street with capricious and legally baseless rulings like this one."

Vallone said he was going to lodge a formal request with Cropper to reverse her order and allow the undercover officers to testify in closed court.

He said Cropper, before whom he has appeared as a prosecutor, has essentially guaranteed a victory for the defendant in the case by barring all testimony and evidence from the officers involved in the undercover buys.

Maltese, who was deputy chief of the Homicide Bureau in the Queens District Attorney’s office, pointed out, "If undercover officers were forced to reveal their identities, it would give criminals the edge in ongoing investigations--and that, in turn, places all of us, as citizens of this city, in danger."

Maltese added, "Very correctly, the officers refused to testify and I fully support that decision. I commend PBA President Patrick Lynch and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for standing behind these officers and supporting prudent law enforcement and the protection of the public."

Maltese, who previously chaired the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, said that from his experience as a Queens assistant district attorney he knows firsthand the integral role that undercover officers play in investigations and how absolutely imperative it is to keep their identities safe."