Susan L. Pollet
Chair of the Archive and Historian Committee
Q: You were elected district attorney of Westchester county last november. Please tell our membership about your legal career and what led you to this position.
A: After graduating from the University of Connecticut, I entered law school for the sole purpose of joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). After graduating from Syracuse Law School, I returned to Mount Vernon to study for the bar exam. I soon joined the Mount Vernon Corporation Counsel’s office as a local prosecutor until I was invited to attend the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. After working in Kentucky on a variety of investigations ranging from civil rights violations to public corruption, I returned home to accept a foreign counterintelligence assignment in Manhattan. I was recruited out of the FBI by Bankers Trust Company to be an Assistant Vice President in their security division, tasked with planning, training and inspection oversight for branches and offices all over the world. Encouraged by community leaders to join the local bench, I was appointed Associate Mount Vernon City Court Judge in 1984. I was elected the following year and soon became the senior judge, valuing the opportunity to work so closely with community leaders to strengthen the city I was born and raised in. Elevated by the voters to the County Court in 1988, I was immediately sent to Orange County to work on a backlog of criminal cases before returning to Westchester County to expand the Special Narcotics Part. In 1993, voters in five counties elected me to the New York State Supreme Court and I was immediately sent to a Rockland County to tackle a backlog of civil trials before returning to Westchester to oversee matrimonial cases, the Mental Hygiene court and general civil and medical malpractice cases. In 2000, I was elected as Westchester County’s sole Surrogate Judge. While serving as Surrogate, I accepted the additional challenges of serving as the Supervising Judge of the Matrimonial Part and then the Supervising Judge of Fiduciary Matters for the Ninth Judicial District. I was re-elected in 2010. In February 2015 I left the bench to join DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr until my election as District Attorney in November 2016.
Q: What are your primary concerns about crime in the Westchester community, and how do you plan to address those issues as District Attorney?
A: A primary concern is the opioid epidemic and its impact on public safety. As a former Special Narcotics Part Judge, I understand the impact of drugs in our communities and the strategies needed to combat them. I have adopted a comprehensive approach to drugs, including a focused strategy to combat the current heroin epidemic. This approach combines vigorous investigation, intelligence gathering and prosecution against predatory dealers, with anti-drug education, community engagement and expansion of drug treatment courts to address the impact of addiction that is affecting Westchester County.
While Westchester County is a safe community, there are still pockets of gang and gun violence. As a result, I have made combating the gangs and gun violence that threaten our cities a top priority, coordinating with our local, county, state, and federal law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who hold our communities hostage to their violent behavior.
In addition, I am taking a tough approach to investigating and prosecuting Internet predators who seek to prey on our children. I have seen the impact of internet scams on our seniors which has prompted me to combine aggressive, coordinated enforcement with public education to alert Westchester residents to the threat of financial scams and identity theft.
Finally, domestic violence in all forms continues to impact the lives of too many members of our community. As a result, our office must continue to work closely with our partners in law enforcement and the medical and social service fields to build strong cases, enhance victim safety and engage in public education and prevention efforts throughout Westchester County.
Q: Please tell us some highlights of what has been accomplished by the District Attorney’s office since you became its leader.
A: I am proud of having expanded participation on important hiring and planning decisions of the office by engaging our entire staff in improving the function of the office. We have started a diversity initiative to make the office more reflective of the entire county. We have enhanced community outreach, created an immigrant affairs office, and joined with neighboring District Attorney’s offices to combat wage theft and corruption in the construction industry. We have also partnered with Westchester County Department of Public Safety to create a Heroin Task Force. I am also laying the foundation to leverage modern technology to make our office more efficient and effective.
Q: What are your primary goals for the office going forward?
A: Going forward, I hope to see our new initiatives bear fruit in lessening crime and offering more protection for the most vulnerable in our county. I want to promote a more positive relationship with all segments of our society. Law enforcement is operating in a very challenging environment right now, and I am hopeful that our approach will foster a better spirit of cooperation and mutual trust.
Q: What changes have you seen in the Westchester legal community since you first started practicing law here?
A: Since my graduation from law school in 1976, I have seen an increase in the number of women attorneys in private practice, in public service, and on the bench. I saw the residents of Westchester County elect two female District Attorneys, one of whom has gone on to lead our court system as the second female Chief Judge of the State of New York. Currently, I am proud to lead an office where over half of our prosecutors are female.
I have also observed how technology has changed our legal profession over the last forty years. While online research tools and electronic filing portals have allowed attorneys to become much more efficient, smartphones have led some clients to expect that their attorneys will be available around the clock. Our newer attorneys are going to need to figure out how to balance the benefits and burdens of technology.
With respect to the criminal justice field, I have seen our community take a more enlightened approach to defendants who suffer from mental illness, are battling an addiction, or have served our country in the military. As a New York State Supreme Court Justice, I presided over the Mental Hygiene Court and gained first-hand experience with the ability for an appropriate intervention plan to positively impact an individual’s behavior. As a result, I hope that therapeutic courts will grow in their reach and impact here in Westchester County.
Q: What advice do you have for new lawyers entering the profession?
A: Don’t be afraid to take a different path than the traditional to obtain your goals. The law is not a mathematical hypothesis. The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. My career is a perfect example. Traditionally, to become a judge you might work in private practice, Legal Aid, or at the DA’s office - become a law secretary or such, and by 50, you would become a judge. I didn’t take any of those steps and became a judge at 32. Go figure!
Next, I recommend that new attorneys remain open minded as to their “dream jobs.” In my experience, goals augment over time. Working in law enforcement was my dream from age 5. At age 16, I set my mind and heart on joining the FBI, and that dream eventually became a reality. However, after several years in the Bureau, I gained the additional responsibilities that come with marriage and family, and my focus shifted. I was drawn to new opportunities and new dreams that I had not previously envisioned. Looking back now, I can’t imagine my career consisting solely of work with the FBI. I am grateful that I found new goals, including my work as a member of the judiciary and now my work as District Attorney.
Q: How have you managed to juggle your home life and career over the years?
A: Start with a fantastic and very understanding and supportive soul mate. My wife, Leigh, has endured numerous transfers in the FBI and seven lost years of campaigning. We had an understanding during the campaigns: She cared for the children and did not have responsibilities in the campaign. The children had her sole attention, and I never infringed on that.
The hardest part, at times, was the financial situation of raising a family of three daughters in Westchester, on a judicial salary. It required Leigh’s returning to work full time.
It was not easy, and sometimes I wonder how we made it.
Q: What are your hobbies and interests other than law?
A: Always my wife and daughters came first. The blessings of two grandchildren has expanded my good fortune. I do play tennis and golf, although both need more attention than I am capable of giving.
I am energized by the wonderful jobs I have had. I loved them all which makes going to the office as enjoyable as golf or tennis.