On Jan. 19, civil rights lawyer Sandra Roper announced her entry into the race for the office of Brooklyn district attorney, likely to be one of the most rancorous races of 2005. She is the first candidate in recorded city history to vie for the position of chief law enforcement officer while under criminal indictment. As a friend of hers said, "Sandra has balls."
Charged with pilfering $8,000 to $9,000 in legal fees from a former client, Roper, 48, believes the case against her is a set-up, payback for having previously challenged Brooklyn D.A. Charles "Joe" Hynes, the four-term incumbent, in a 2001 primary in which the unfunded and unknown Bed-Stuy lawyer received a shocking 39 percent of the vote. Hynes, who outspent Roper by an estimated 30 to 1, waged such a ferocious legal assault on Roper's nominating petitions that by election day he ended up $25,000 in debt from the over $200,000 in fees paid to his Park Avenue election lawyers.
Roper's bitter accuser, 78-year-old Mary Lee Ward, spends a lot of time in courtrooms, usually as repeat litigant. Since 1997, Ward has filed at least 13 civil suits and 4 criminal complaints against contractors, trucking companies, landowners and, especially, lawyers. She once swore out an apparently spurious assault complaint against one of her own tenants, but the case was dismissed. (Today the tenant, since moved, lives in fear of Ward.) As for the forgery and larceny allegations against Sandra Roper, Ward has made almost identical complaints against at least four other separate attorneys, but none was taken seriously by either Brooklyn prosecutors or the New York State bar's grievance committee.
Then Ward turned her sights on Roper, and with the help of D.A. Joe Hynes a special prosecutor was quickly appointed in the matter. In testifying before the grand jury, a weeping Ward stated that Roper wanted to have her murdered, according to transcripts.Ward, a devout Jehovah's Witness, later told the Times that Roper was "like Judas Iscariot."
Asked about the grand jury testimony, Ward denied ever discussing Roper's alleged homicidal threats, saying anyone who claimed otherwise was "spreading lies."
"I know that Satan and his people are busy," Ward said in a phone interview. "But there's a judgment day coming for each and every one of us. And the truth will be known and justice will prevail."
Roper's first trial in the case ended in a hung jury last November-9 to 3 in Roper's favor-and Roper appears hopeful of the outcome when her retrial starts on Feb. 28. "This indictment was orchestrated by Joe Hynes to keep me out of the race in 2005," said Roper. "I didn't bow to the oppression in 2001, I won't bow to it in 2005." If she wins, she'll be the second female district attorney ever to be elected in the history of the five counties. The first was Brooklynite Liz Holzman, who left office in 1989 when Joe Hynes took over her seat.