Personality

The cable TV legal expert challenging Westchester’s DA

Mimi Rocah is taking on incumbent Anthony Scarpino in the Democratic primary.

Mimi Rocah

Mimi Rocah Rocah Campaign

One former Westchester district attorney, Jeanine Pirro, moved on to TV after leaving office, hosting a show on Fox News. Now MSNBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah is trying to go in the opposite direction, from TV to becoming the county’s top prosecutor.

Rocah is challenging Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino in the Democratic primary on June 23. Scarpino was first elected in 2016 and is running for reelection for the first time. Rocah substantially outraised him as of the first financial filing deadline on Jan. 11, bringing in nearly $329,000. Scarpino raised $131,000 and now has about $189,000 in his campaign account.

Other than appearing on MSNBC, Rocah is a criminal justice fellow at the Pace University law school. From 2001 to 2017, she was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, leaving as co-chief of the White Plains division.

City & State caught up with her ahead of the Jan. 29 Westchester County Democratic Convention to talk about why she’s running, her thoughts on the new bail laws, and how she wishes she could take back her comments on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. 

Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino is running for his second term, after being elected in 2016. Why are you challenging him in the Democratic primary?

It’s not about what he’s doing wrong. I just think there’s so much more we can do with the district attorney’s office, both to help us make Westchester safer, but also to make the system as a whole more fair, both for victims and for people who potentially get charged or become part of the system. In this time that we're in when we have these very anti-democratic people leading the country in Washington, and (President Donald) Trump and (U.S. Attorney General) Bill Barr as the face of the justice system to most of America, it's more important than ever to stand out and put our best foot forward as the Democratic Party, as people who believe in equality and fairness, as people who believe in innovation and progress and modernizing our criminal justice system.

You’ve challenged Scarpino to 10 debates. Do you expect him to accept the challenge, or to try to have fewer or no debates?

We have heard nothing in response to that challenge. And it's a real challenge, and I really would like the opportunity. These are really important, life-and-death issues. There's so much to talk about, and a debate would be a wonderful forum to be able to really talk more substantively about my gun control platform and things that are very simple that we could do on day one that I don't understand why they're not taking that now.

How do you feel about the state’s new law limiting the use of bail? Do you think state legislators should change it this year?

The most important thing to say about the new bail law is it was absolutely necessary. The idea that we were keeping people in jail pretrial because they couldn't afford to pay money is – we were in the Dark Ages. There were so many states, less progressive than New York frankly, that have already done away with cash bail pretrial. And in the federal system – which I grew up in for 16 years as a federal prosecutor – we didn't have cash bail. No one was detained pretrial in jail just because they couldn't afford to pay for it.

Obviously, like any other kind of change, it's gonna take a lot of getting used to. It's going to take a lot of leadership, implementing and figuring out what we need to fine tune. And I think there are going to be some changes that we need to make. But we had to take this first step and it should be celebrated.

Should New York join the majority of other states and allow judges to consider a defendant's dangerousness in regards to whether they should be detained pretrial?

Again, in the federal system that I came from, that was a possibility. I think we should at least consider it. It's too soon to decide what changes we can make until we see how this plays out. I am confident that there are changes that will need to be made.

On the same day of the election for DA, there’s going to be a huge congressional election in Westchester County, to replace the retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. Have you endorsed any candidates, or do you plan to campaign with anyone?

No. I think it's amazing that so many different people who are frankly excellent in so many different ways are stepping up. And I'm glad to see it, but I don't, at least right now, plan to particularly endorse any one candidate.

You’ve gotten a lot of flak from Bernie Sanders supporters after saying on MSNBC in July that he “makes your skin crawl.” Did you just mean politically, or was that personally?

That was probably the one time on TV as a legal commentator I was asked my personal view on two candidates – Sanders compared to (Elizabeth) Warren. I wish I'd said it differently. I think I was expressing a sentiment that I personally felt and that some other women out there had felt about the way Hillary Clinton was treated and during that (2016) campaign and some other things he's done. But while we're all entitled to our personal views, I definitely could have said it in a better way.

Have you endorsed in the presidential race yet?

No, and I have a lot of favorite candidates. I would absolutely support whoever the nominee is 1,000%. Because the most important thing is getting Donald Trump out of the office.

Do you have any prosecutors that you look up to or you would hope to emulate in this office?

(Former U.S. Attorney) Preet Bharara is my friend, he was my boss, he is a mentor. Preet really tried to teach all of us from day one this idea of not just pursuing cases for the sake of prosecution, not just pursuing a sentence for the sake of the highest sentence, but trying to do justice. And sometimes that meant making sure that somebody's case is dismissed or exonerated, because we found out something later about the case. 

The most important thing a prosecutor can do as a leader is teach that to the generations of prosecutors who come after them. Because I can't look over the shoulder every day of every prosecutor in my office with every single decision they make. So what I have to do, what I can do, is teach them the right set of values, of integrity and fairness and how to pursue cases in the best way but also how to pull back and be more fair about the system as a whole.

NEXT STORY: Julie Menin’s political future

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.