Justice is not all Greek to Madeline Singas ’91.
Decades before Madeline Singas ’91 served as the voice of justice for more than one million Long Island residents, she spoke for a handful of small business owners and blue-collar workers in her childhood neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. The daughter of Greek immigrants, Singas at an early age translated mail for her parents and interpreted for her grandmother at the Social Security office, honorable tasks that seemed to foreshadow her legal career dedicated to serving others.
Years later, as a student at Fordham Law, Singas discovered a love for criminal law and the courtroom that provided the bedrock for a distinguished prosecutorial career spanning more than two decades across Queens and Nassau counties as well as her most recent post, district attorney for Nassau County.
Singas was elected the county’s top prosecutor in 2015, after she served over the previous decade as the first chief of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office special victims bureau, chief assistant district attorney, and acting district attorney when her predecessor Kathleen Rice left the office to run for Congress. The NCDA oversees the 32nd-largest criminal jurisdiction in the nation, representing more than 1.3 million individuals.
“It’s the culmination of my life’s work and my parents’ life’s work that I was sworn in as Nassau County district attorney,” Singas says, adding she doubts her parents could have imagined when they immigrated that their daughter would have achieved such a position. “It really is a quintessential American story—the American Dream come true.”
Singas credits her mother and father for providing her and her sister with a loving, supportive, and idealistic environment. Her parents were humble, civic-minded people who emphasized the transformative power of education. They owned a pizzeria. Singas’ aunts were seamstresses and her uncles were bakers. No one in her extended family practiced law.
At Fordham Law, Singas found an elite institution where children of immigrant, hard-working laborers could fit in and be challenged academically. She explored different facets of the law and realized that being in the courtroom—“the most lawyerly work I could think of”—appealed to her. Still, she considered prosecution a path to another career, not her lifelong vocation, until she joined the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
Singas served as trial attorney in the major case bureau, supervisor of training in the narcotics trial bureau, and deputy chief of the domestic violence bureau during her 15 years as an assistant district attorney in Queens. The federal government recognized the domestic violence bureau, under her supervision, as one that other jurisdictions should emulate.
While Singas prosecuted many noteworthy cases in Queens County, she points out that each case, regardless of the severity of the crime or potential penalty, is gratifying for a prosecutor because of the support it offers victims at a difficult time in their lives.
“There’s no greater satisfaction than living a life serving others,” she adds.
Singas continued her service in 2006 when she accepted Kathleen Rice’s invitation to lead Nassau County’s special victims bureau, an operation that soon became a national model for prosecuting sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, disabled abuse, and human trafficking cases. The household violence women and children described in the special victims bureau contrasted sharply with her own safe, loving upbringing, she notes.
“How can we expect these women and children to be productive and have meaningful lives when the places that should be the safest are the places where they face the most violent situations?” Singas asks.
In 2011, Singas received a promotion to chief assistant district attorney, where she oversaw the convictions of several corrupt officials in law enforcement and municipal government. She also established numerous specialized courts and spearheaded innovative, cost-neutral outreach programs, despite one of the worst financial periods in county history.
Last fall, Singas, then acting district attorney, capitalized on her experience and success prosecuting corrupt officials in her district attorney race against Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, an opponent who enjoyed name recognition but lacked prosecutorial experience. Singas ultimately won with 58 percent of the vote.
“It was really gratifying to win an election the pundits didn’t think I would be able to win. I connected with people on a real level and they found me so committed to the work,” Singas says.
Not surprisingly, Singas continues to demonstrate that commitment during her first year as full-term district attorney.
Among Singas’ major initiatives is a plan to build a family justice center in Mineola that will provide women access to services related to immigration, family court, addiction, and mental health. Other high priorities include anticorruption, human trafficking, cybercrime, and education-based outreach programs in response to pervasive community issues, such as drunk driving and heroin use.
Due to limited resources, her office’s ability to prosecute 30,000 cases annually, while offering robust services, requires creative thinking, Singas says. She hopes to work with the legislature to increase the agency’s current $34 million budget, a number significantly lower than the local police budget. Doing so would help Nassau County better retain good, experienced prosecutors.
“I want to build an office that is the premier prosecutorial agency in this state,” Singas says, adding that she hopes to serve as the head of that agency “for a long time.”