Manhattan D.A.'s office a hall of fame

December 30, 1993|By Salvatore Arena | Salvatore Arena,New York Daily News

When authorities finally corralled a homicidal upper Manhattan drug gang known as the Wild Cowboys last fall, there was no shortage of prosecutors ready to share in the glory.

But at the news conference announcing the arrests, few reporters realized that the man chiefly responsible for making the case, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Dan Rather, was missing.

"Camera shy," his boss, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, said when asked why the CBS anchorman's son was not present to take credit for two years of work.

After eight years as an assistant district attorney in Mr. Morgenthau's office, Mr. Rather has succeeded at avoiding the spotlight while gaining a reputation as an able prosecutor. He's not the first scion of a famous parent to launch a legal career under Mr. Morgenthau, though not all have managed to do it so quietly.

John F. Kennedy Jr. recently left the office after a four-year stint. His cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr. passed through quickly but with nearly as much fanfare a decade ago.

In the late '70s, there was Zechariah Chafee, son of Republican ** Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, and later Cyrus Vance Jr., son of the former secretary of state.

No wonder the Manhattan D.A.'s office has been described by some as a legal training ground for the sons of the rich and famous, though Mr. Morgenthau insists that the majority of his assistants come without connections and that most share the distinction of being from the top of their class.

Each year, Mr. Morgenthau gets more resumes than any other local prosecutor in the nation -- 1,500 applicants for 45 openings.

"It's very competitive," says Frederick Watts, Mr. Morgenthau's director of legal hiring. He says that after an initial screening, 800 candidates submit to a rigorous three-step interview in which Mr. Morgenthau plays no direct role, until Mr. Watts submits the finalists to him. "He makes the final decisions," Mr. Watts says.

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