The allegations of physical abuse that four women have brought against New York's former attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, are serious both in their own right and because they're aimed at a man who was recently considered a #MeToo champion. And a highly experienced woman is on the case. Madeline Singas is the New York special prosecutor in the Schneiderman case, and she will bring a long history of protecting women into this high-profile investigation.
Schneiderman is accused of physically assaulting and threatening to kill women who allegedly had romantic relationships with him. He stepped down from his position as attorney general in the hours after the report was published, but he denies the allegations, saying, "In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross."
Singas is currently the district attorney of New York's Nassau County, a division of Long Island. She was elected for a four-year term in November of 2015. Prior to that, she'd served as the acting district attorney for much of the year after the previous attorney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Singas became the second woman to hold her current position and the first Greek-American to do so.
Those who are familiar with Singas' work and character say that she is well-suited for the Schneiderman case, according to The New York Times. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sang her praises at the press conference in which he announced her appointment on Thursday.
"She's extremely competent in this area," he said. Cuomo also pointed out her gender, adding, "and she’s a woman. The victims in this case are women. To the extent that winds up an asset, fine, but that wasn't the basis of the selection, either."
Sonia Ossorio, head of the National Organization for Women of New York, told The New York Times that Singas is "very well-known for doggedly pursuing crimes against women and violence against women" and that she's always "spent the time getting to know [victims] ... and building that trust so they would know she was on their side."
Before becoming district attorney, Singas worked as a law enforcement officer for 24 years, during which time she often took cases relating to domestic violence and sex crimes. She helped launch a domestic violence bureau in the office of the Queens district attorney in the '90s and served as the lead prosecutor in many abuse trials.
In one of her more prominent cases, Singas successfully prosecuted Ricardo Walters, a former corrections officer who was found guilty of kidnapping, assaulting, robbing, and raping multiple women. Walters approached his victims on the street, robbed them at gunpoint, and took them into secluded spots to physically abuse them.
Singas has been an advocate for increasing the constraints placed on registered sex offenders in New York. She's also batted corruption, fought the heroin epidemic, and supported anti-harassment and anti-bullying efforts in schools.
Singas' investigation into Schneiderman could face significant hurdles, including the state's statute of limitations. In New York, charges can't be filed beyond one year for legal violations, two years for misdemeanors, and five years for felonies, according to Newsday. The alleged physical abuse laid out in the New Yorker exposé about Schneiderman occurred between 2013 and 2016.
"We will analyze the laws of New York state to see when we can bring charges, if we can bring charges," Singas said on Thursday. She also said that "we will treat this case the same as we do all cases" and that "there will be no stone unturned."
Singas has said that being a lawyer enables her to act as "a voice for people," which she's particularly passionate about as the child of Greek immigrants who often had to translate for her parents. "Growing up as a first-generation American and sort of being an advocate for my family and my extended family — always being the one to go with them whenever they needed help to get through the red tape – I felt like I was always a voice for people, and that just continued," she told Newsday in October 2015.
If Singas' history is any indication, Michelle Manning Barish, Tanya Selvaratnam, and the two anonymous women who have also leveled accusations at Schneiderman are likely to feel that they're being supported by a woman who is a strong and honest voice for them.