Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance accepted over $3,000 in campaign funds from attorneys representing a gynecologist his office was prosecuting for alleged serial sexual assault of patients in 2015.
The donations, first reported by the IB Times and detailed further by CBS News on Friday, are coming to light as Vance faces a harsh spotlight over his handling of an investigation into disgraced Hollywood mogul and serial assaulter Harvey Weinstein.
The 2015 prosecution is distinct from both Weinstein’s saga and the D.A.’s earlier decision to drop a case against President Donald Trump’s children, all of which also saw lawyers for the powerful targets of investigations make substantial contributions to Vance’s campaign fund. Vance declined to pursue those two cases in court. In former doctor Robert Hadden’s case, however, the sequence of donor checks and prosecutorial decisions came in the middle of an active criminal case.
Vance had charged Hadden with multiple sex crimes, based on evidence and testimony from six patients. In October 2015, his office sought to strengthen the case by adding evidence from 13 additional accusers. Hadden’s attorney, Isabelle Kirshner, filed a motion to block those additional allegations on October 9, 2015. “Later that day, she donated $250 to Vance’s reelection campaign,” CBS reports. Kirshner’s firm has made more than $42,000 in contributions to Vance’s election fund in total, while negotiating multiple cases and plea deals with his office, the IBT found.
Vance and Kirshner each denied impropriety to CBS, saying that donations do not influence casework. Kirshner told the channel her firm “supported Cy because we believe he’s the best person for the job” and is “above reproach.” Kirshner squared off with Chief Assistance District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo in the case, which like most criminal complaints was handled by subordinates rather than the D.A. himself, his office told ThinkProgress.
No further motions were filed in the case after the October 9 defense motion and separate campaign check.
Rather than continue to trial, Vance’s team struck a deal that would prevent Hadden from ever practicing medicine in the United States — but leave him with no jail time and no requirement to register as a sex offender in the state of New York. The deal was covered as “a slap on the wrist” by the New York Daily News when it was announced in February 2016, four months after Kirshner’s motion and check both landed on the same day.
Kirshner and the two named partners at her firm donated a further $3,000 to Vance’s campaign “just weeks after Hadden was sentenced,” according to CBS.
As one of the highest-profile prosecutors in the United States, Vance has long been an object of great scrutiny for reporters. His jurisdiction has more human beings in it than any other single prosecutor’s could. Though he is running unopposed for a third term this year, his campaign fund has continued to stock up reserves for the future. Up until this summer, to the extent anyone outside New York City knew Vance’s name it would likely have been to think of him as the face of the movement to reform criminal justice away from shortsighted, heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all rules and toward an approach advocates dubbed “Smart on Crime.” But the Weinstein and Trump donor-dealing stories have now served him up to the world on a platter of scandal.
The specifics of Hadden’s alleged serial molestation of patients are lurid and grim. CBS repeated them in detail. They amount to an alleged pattern of physical violation, in which Hadden would ensure he was alone with patients without a nurse present before initiating sexual assault in varying forms. At least one of the patients spoke no English, the CBS report says.
In exchange for Hadden’s medical license, and for his guilty pleas to two lower-level sexual crimes that do not trigger state sex offender registry rules, Vance’s office agreed not to pursue the ex-doctor on any case related to the 13 additional alleged victims of his abuse who had come forward after prosecutors brought their initial case based on six women’s stories. A copy of the plea agreement reviewed by ThinkProgress indicates that Hadden “agree[d] that he will not seek licensure in any other jurisdiction” either.
Vance spokeswoman Joan Vallero defended the plea decision in terms familiar to anyone who’s covered prosecutor decisionmaking.
“Typically, evidence gets weaker with time, not stronger,” Vallero told ThinkProgress. One of the state’s witnesses had stopped answering the phone while the case was still pending, she said.
“Obtaining a felony conviction was the goal in this case. Had the case gone to trial, that may well not have happened,” Vallero said. “He now has a felony conviction, which was not a guarantee had the case gone to trial.”
Vance’s office describes the plea deal as having required Hadden to register as a sex offender. But he does not turn up in the online state registry because the crimes prosecutors insisted on guilty pleas for are too low-level to put the former doctor in the offense tiers that are readily searchable.
This piece has been updated to reflect that the IB Times first reported Vance’s handling of Hadden’s case and donor checks from Kirshner’s firm, and to clarify the D.A.’s office’s interactions with attorneys in the Hadden and Weinstein cases.