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Brooklyn DA appoints chief of Conviction Review Unit

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/17/2014, 1:38 p.m.
In one of several significant moves during his first few months in office, newly elected Kings County District Attorney Ken ...
Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.

In one of several significant moves during his first few months in office, newly elected Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson tapped Harvard Law School professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr. as special counsel to the district attorney for the revamped Conviction Review Unit.

The CRU is responsible for conducting thorough and fair reinvestigations of cases under review by the district attorney’s office. The unit has recently been expanded and reorganized and consists of experienced prosecutors, investigators and support staff.

The CRU will work in consultation with an outside independent panel of three attorneys that includes Bernard W. Nussbaum, Jennifer G. Rodgers and Gary S. Villanueva, who will provide assistance in evaluating the cases.

Sullivan, who teaches at Harvard Law School and heads its Criminal Justice Institute, will guide the CRU. He has been on the Harvard Law School faculty since 2007 and teaches and writes in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, legal ethics and race theory. Sullivan is a graduate of the historically Black Morehouse College and of Harvard Law School.

Before teaching at Harvard, Sullivan served on the faculty of Yale Law School, where, after his first year of teaching, he earned the law school’s award for outstanding teaching. Between the years 1995 and 2004, at different times, he served as staff attorney, general counsel and, eventually, director and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C., Public Defender Service.

“I am pleased that professor Sullivan has agreed to bring his considerable legal knowledge, experience and scholarship to lead the efforts of this very important Conviction Review Unit,” Thompson said. “The CRU has the crucial task of reexamining a number of cases to determine if justice was done, and professor Sullivan’s background and experience makes him an excellent choice to fill this essential role. We will continue our careful and deliberate review of these cases in our pursuit of justice and fairness.”

Sullivan also served as chief counsel for the Orleans Public Defenders office, where he designed an indigent defense delivery system for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In that role, he implemented a number of reforms that brought the office in compliance with relevant norms and standards for indigent defense.

“The important work by our newly created Conviction Review Unit is being done fairly and with integrity and has already led to the release of some defendants,” Thompson said. “And while we understand the need to work quickly, we are not willing to sacrifice thoroughness for speed in the pursuit of justice.”

The CRU was created by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes. Since Thompson became DA, reports indicate that the office has been combing through dozens of cases. As a result, innocent men have been vindicated while serving prison sentences.

One of the most recent cases involves the dismissal of murder charges against Jonathan Fleming, convicted in the 1989 shooting death of Darryl Rush. Fleming’s release follows a thorough review of his case by the CRU. His case was finalized last week in court before a judge after he spent 24 years in prison.

Credible evidence uncovered by the CRU supported the conclusion that Fleming was innocent and that he was in Florida, rather than Brooklyn, at the time of the shooting.