II. NYC Public Defender Recalls ‘Sleazy’ DV Prosecutor

By David Feige

Prosecutors’ offices usually define success not by the justice of the result, but by the number of convictions. This creates a perverse incentive structure that rewards aggressive prosecutors looking for scalps rather than those searching for fairness. And though there are certainly bad guys who need locking up (I’ve represented several), when the enormous power of the state is arrayed against some poor kid from the projects, having a zealous prosecutor who is just looking to win will often result in a miscarriage of justice.

Even among domestic violence prosecutors, Sarah Schall is one of the worst – so sleazy that defense lawyers just laugh when she routinely claims to have “just found” paperwork she should have long ago turned over. Schall is small and mean and twitchy, and she tends to march rather than walk….

Domestic violence is a serious problem, and no one condones it. Women often call the police because they are terrified, helpless, or being seriously hurt. But they also call to remove angry, drunk, and often dangerous lovers and spouses, to report threatening phone calls, or even to tattle on loudly arguing neighbors. And once the police are called and mandatory arrest policies enforced, women lose control of their destinies. Forgivable transgressions quickly become stuck in the court system as prosecutors supplant women as the arbiters of intimate relationships. Unfortunately for many victims, prosecutors often have an agenda quite different from their own. Sarah Schall is one of them – the kind of ADA that can make a woman believe that despite her abuse, her real mistake was calling the police or involving the prosecutors, because from the moment Schall is on the case, the interests of the victims and her family are likely to play second fiddle to Schall’s personal prosecutorial crusade.

Source: David Feige. Indefensible: One Lawyer’s Journey into the Inferno of American Justice. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. 2006. Excerpted from Chapter 10. Reprinted with permission.