The Dragon Lady Runs for D.A.

Ex-judge Leslie Crocker Snyder wants to talk about everything except her law firm

But the co-op case wasn't the only appointment that went to a Snyder friend, records show. In 2001, the judge selected attorney Lawrence Goldman to manage another restitution fund, this one to cover payments to investors defrauded by a crooked brokerage firm. Goldman, who bills at a rate of $450 an hour, has collected $50,000 so far, and has indicated in court filings that he is seeking an additional $175,000 in fees to oversee the fund, which reached $11 million.

"I've known Larry Goldman for years," said Snyder last week. "If they say I approved him for something, I probably did. I don't remember."

Goldman, who worked with Snyder in the D.A.'s office in the late '60s, is the chairman of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and a past president of the three bar associations. "It was [Snyder's] recommendation," said Goldman, "but it was with the agreement of Morgenthau's office and the defense attorneys." His fees so far have included $15,000 in advertising expenses, and his final tab will be well below 5 percent of the fund, a cap that applies to court-appointed guardians, he said.

Working the street: Snyder greeting voters last week on the Upper East Side
photo: Marc Asnin
Working the street: Snyder greeting voters last week on the Upper East Side

So far Goldman has contributed $2,125 to Snyder's campaign and has been prominently quoted in several articles about her candidacy. "I think she is gutsy, competent, and incredibly energetic," he said. "There are a lot of things we personally disagree about in terms of criminal justice issues," he said, "but I admire her energy, intellect, and diligence."

Not all lawyers who saw Snyder on the bench share that view. Jim Rogers, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, whose members represent indigent defendants, accuses Snyder of using the Rockefeller drug laws to hand down severe sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. "I am far from a fan of Robert Morgenthau's office," said Rogers. "But Snyder is an extremist whom all New Yorkers who care about the fate of poor people in the criminal justice system should be frightened of."

Snyder denies it, insisting that she bent over backward in several instances to help defendants, particularly women. But she acknowledges that in order to win leniency from her at the bench, defendants had to plead guilty. "I had a lot of credibility with the prosecutors because I was tough in the cases where a judge was supposed to be tough," she said.

That tough side is amply on display in a 1997 transcript that the judge's critics have circulated in recent months. The case involved a man who was picked up by police, accused of being a fugitive drug dealer named Ramon Perez. The defendant's lawyer, Kenneth Wasserman, told Snyder it was mistaken identity, and that a state fingerprint check had confirmed that his client was in fact Saul Gonzalez.

According to the transcript, the assistant D.A. offered no opinion, but Snyder, pointing to a 10-year-old snapshot of the fugitive, mockingly dismissed the claim. "That is truly absurd," she said. "The photographs look exactly like your client." The fingerprints had simply gotten mixed up, she insisted. "There is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind," Snyder said twice at the hearing before she remanded the defendant back to jail.

Two weeks later, the D.A. told Snyder they did indeed have the wrong man. At that point Gonzalez had been in jail for 24 days, but Snyder was still suspicious. "Unless he's been cloned, he is clearly the same person," said the judge as she released him.

Last week, Snyder admitted her mistake, but offered no apology. "You would have to look at the record," she said. "I don't remember each time what I said." If anyone was at fault, she said, "it was the D.A.'s office, which kept insisting it had the right person."

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