My Own Serpico Story

When the time came to decide what I would do for living, I was lucky enough to buy a ticket to see a movie at the local movie theater. The movie was old by then, produced a decade earlier, but new to me. Its title was the name of the main character, played by Al Pacino. Al’s publicity picture associated with the movie made it into my bedroom and up on my mirror and stayed there until I graduated high school and made it to law school. I found it easily on the Web: original I will never know if I got into the business of law because of Serpico or because of Al Pacino.

Now, decades later I find myself in Frank Serpico’s city and discover our lives had intertwined even more. Today, The New York Times published Corey Kilgannon’s reporting that The City’s Law Department served Mr. Serpico, 77 years old, with a subpoena in another NYPD whistle-blower case, Adrian Schoolcraft’s, 38 years old, who also worked in the 81st Precinct in Bedford-Styvesant, Brooklyn, where Mr. Serpico worked in the 1970s. Corey Kilgannon reports that Mr. Schoolcraft was forcibly hospitalized and suspended from the force after going public with information that his superiors were routinely downgrading crime reports in an attempt to present the area as less crime-ridden.

So, what is the connection, aside from my interest in whistle-blowers as the last romantic hero? (Snowden may be soon knighted to keep the NSA records of the royal bathroom jokes out of the public view.)

First, Mr. Serpico’s subpoena was drafted by my former employer, the New York City Law Department, and it makes me nostalgic to discover that under Signor Bloomberg the Law Department hires the same type of lawyers as the ones  employed under Signor Giuliani – or maybe the current ones are all left-over from Giuliani times.

“The city’s subpeopna, in an odd mistake,” says Kilgannon, “identified Mr. Serpico as Mr. Schoolcraft’s father.”
“I guess they think I adopted him,” Mr. Serpico said.

Second, working for the Law Department I represented members of the NYPD, though I tried my best not to make the mistake the current handlers of Schoolcraft’s case are making – inviting a damaging witness to testify in a high profile case. Which makes me think that from where I stand, Frank Serpico’s words, as related by Kilgannon, best describe both the master – NY City Law Dept – and the servant – NYPD – though at times the roles may appear reversed:

While the subpoena did not order Mr. Serpico to testify, it is possible that the city could issue another ordering him to do so – which he says will surely not help the Police Department’s case.

“They were never known for their genius,” Mr. Serpico said.

“It’s be fun – I’m looking forward to giving my opinion,” he said, then sighed and added, “Forty years later, the beat goes on.”

Recommended For You