Robert Morgenthau announced Friday that his ninth term as Manhattan district attorney would be his last, the New York Times reports. He founded sex-crime and consumer-affairs units, went after slumlords and added Spanish-speaking staff and interpreters at a time when such actions registered as at least mildly revolutionary. On the negative side, he seemed slow to respond to the 1980s police corruption plague (other district attorneys were slower off the mark) and his prosecutors sat on evidence in the 1980s that a rogue transit police unit was arresting black residents without cause. He gained a few convictions, notably in the Central Park jogger case in 1989, that proved erroneous. Federal prosecutors complained that he did not respect traditional boundaries by pursuing complex white-collar investigations.
In his first decade, Morgenthau quadrupled the number of black prosecutors and increased Latino staff to 25 from 1 and women to 129 from 19. He created a vertical prosecution system that had prosecutors handle cases from complaint to conviction. In the early 1980s, he created a Homicide Investigation Unit, a team of prosecutors and detectives to pursue drug gangs that ruled many streets in Upper Manhattan. Hhe had a keen eye to his place in history. In the 1980s, he noted to a reporter that his conviction rate – then at 73 percent – exceeded that of Thomas Dewey, the famed mob-buster of the 1930s.