September 21, 2005

D.A. Speaks About Drug Sentencing

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George Dentes ’76, the Republican incumbent in the election for Tompkins County District Attorney, spoke to the College Republicans about his election race with Democrat Gwen Wilkinson last night.

Paul Ibrahim ’06, president of the College Republicans, introduced Dentes to the audience. Ibrahim said that this year’s elections are important, even though there are no presidential or senatorial elections. Ibrahim supports Dentes’ campaign and believes he will be reelected.

“We’re going to win [this election], but it will be a tough race nonetheless,” Ibrahim said.

Dentes began his speech with background information about his life. Dentes is an Ithaca native who attended local public schools; he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell and went on to attend Cornell Law. After graduation, Dentes worked for two years as a patent lawyer in New York. Finding this work unsatisfying, Dentes began working in the D.A.’s office in Lower Manhattan, where he handled repeat violent felons.

Dentes and his wife moved back to Ithaca in 1985. He practiced law privately in Tompkins County for four years while becoming active in local Republican politics.

After the incumbent D.A. announced his retirement, Dentes ran for and won the position. He has been reelected three times, making this his 16th year as D.A.

“I have been a prosecutor for 20 years of my professional career,” Dentes said of his combined Ithaca and Manhattan jobs.

Dentes also developed software called CrimeTime, which helps lawyers, judges, defendants and anyone else interested find the possible punishments for a crime with respect to factors such as age and history. CrimeTime is free to download and use, applying only to New York state law.

Dentes then discussed election campaigns in Tompkins County, in which approximately 100,000 people reside. Last year approximately 50,000 people were registered to vote in Tompkins County; this year there are about 40,000.

“[Because this is not a presidential election year], we will probably have about 12,000 people vote this year,” Dentes said.

Of these 40,000 people, approximately 43 percent are registered Democrat and 28 percent Republican; 10 percent of voters are registered with other parties and 19 percent are unaffiliated. “Every time I have run I have been in the minority – less represented – party – There’s an awful lot of people who just vote party – [but] if the people know you, they don’t care about the party,” Dentes told the audience.

He also said that many of the registered voters are students who are not concerned with local elections.

Dentes moved from election structure to current election issues. One topic that has been mentioned by Wilkinson, a former assistant D.A. and prosecutor for the county’s Department of Social Services, related to the trial of the “St. Patrick’s Day Four,” a group of protesters who threw their own blood around a military recruiting station in Tompkins County. The protest took place on March 17, 2003, just as the United States was about to attack Iraq. When the protesters would not leave the station, they were arrested and charged with criminal misconduct. A trial in county court last year ended with a hung jury, so Dentes asked federal prosecutors to step in for a retrial. The protesters are now on trial in federal court in Binghamton.

Dentes feels that the protesters tried to improperly use their political beliefs as justification for illegal activity.

“You can’t damage federal property because you don’t agree with the government,” Dentes said. Additionally, despite criticisms to the contrary, Dentes said he would have dealt with any political-motivated crime the same way. He told the audience he would prosecute, for example, protesters who threw their blood on an abortion clinic in the same manner as the St. Patrick’s Day Four.

“Good prosecutors never make decisions on a political basis,” Dentes said.

This topic resurfaced toward the end of the meeting when Jeff Purcell grad and Danny Pearlstein grad asked why Dentes continued to prosecute them for the Day Hall takeover on April 28 after the University requested the charges be dropped.

“You committed a crime and you will be punished,” Dentes said. “A criminal charge is the people of the state of New York verse John Q. – I decide what charges are pressed and what charges are dropped.”

Dentes went on to inform the generally approving crowd that the protesters “wanted their soapbox” and would have to handle the punishment that came with protesting. Both Purcell and Pearlstein are Sun columnists.

Dentes’ other major campaign topic involved drugs and drug enforcement policies that have been criticized by his opponent. In a Sept. 9 article in The Sun, following Wilkinson’s speech to the Cornell Democrats, she criticizes the 1973 Rockefeller Laws. According to Dentes, these laws were repealed last year.

Dentes feels that Wilkinson will not deal strongly enough with drug criminals, saying that his D.A.’s office, consisting of him and seven assistant prosecutors, does not plea bargain with drug sellers. After explaining some of the changes in drug punishment laws in New York after the repeal of the Rockefeller Laws, Dentes condemned Wilkinson’s position on the “war on drugs.”

“The people who criticize the ‘war on drugs’ ultimately want to legalize drugs,” Dentes said. “We don’t try to win the ‘war’; we try to punish law breaking.”

Nitin Chadda ’07, candidate for county legislature in the 4th District, spoke briefly at the beginning of the meeting about his campaign. Chadda feels that the county often looks at Collegetown as a “cash box” to cover expenses because residents of Collegetown do not ask for financial accountability.

“It’s time for someone to say no [to this practice],” Chadda told the group.

Archived article by Rebecca Shoval
Sun Staff Writer