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Anthony Scarpino: “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die”

In the world of law and really any career, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. What I mean by that, is don’t feel you always have to follow what’s considered the traditional path. Usually, one becomes a trial judge much later in their career. Typically, you start off at […]

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In the world of law and really any career, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. What I mean by that, is don’t feel you always have to follow what’s considered the traditional path. Usually, one becomes a trial judge much later in their career. Typically, you start off at a law firm and eventually become a judge. That’s the traditional or “straight” line.” I went off the line and became an FBI agent, then worked for an international bank, then became a trial judge at 32. So long as you’re moving forward, you can shorten the distance.


As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Scarpino.

Anthony Scarpino is the former District Attorney for Westchester County, N.Y., and a partner in the Litigation Department at Dorf & Nelson LLP in Rye, N.Y.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?

Public service, law and law enforcement are in my family’s DNA. I knew at the age of 5 I wanted to be a police officer.

My father, an attorney, applied to the FBI in the early 1930s, and while that didn’t work out for him, he pointed me in that direction and encouraged me to consider that path. At the time I applied to the FBI, the preferred pool of candidates were attorneys and accountants. So, the reason I went to law school was to be eligible to apply for the position of Special Agent. It was my dream job, and I expected to retire there. I never anticipated that my career would include working for an international bank, City, County, NYS Supreme and Surrogate Judgeships, private practice and eventually District Attorney (DA) of Westchester County, N.Y. My father passed away when I was in high school, but him pointing my way early on was a huge part of what brought me to where I am today.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?

I was in my first weeks of FBI field office training assigned to Louisville, KY. A curmudgeonly agent was training me, and we were working a fugitive matter when a bank alarm went off. We were the first to respond and started the investigation, while waiting for the bank robbery squad to arrive.

When the robber left the bank with cash in a bag, it detonated a red-dye packet, covering the bag, money, and perpetrator. I found the bag in a field about 30 yards away. I was protecting the bag when the bank robbery squad arrived. An agent went to pick up the bag and I tried to stop him, but my senior agent told me to let him take it. Then, he told me to head back to the car and “watch the show.” I had no idea what he meant and was fuming mad because the bank squad thought they were the A-Team and above the rest of the squads. The agent went into the bank to show the head of the squad he found the funds and to take the credit. That’s when the bank squad agents came running out of the branch covered in red dye. The agent neglected to check whether all the dye packets had exploded.

We got a good laugh out of that one for a while!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

2020 turned out to be the year I received my PhD in crisis management. I thought I had seen almost everything over the course of my career, but I could never have imagined the triple tsunami I faced as DA during the pandemic. First, across New York there were sweeping criminal justice reforms put out by the state legislature on January 1, addressing bail, speedy trial, and discovery reform, that DAs had to implement. Then two months later, Covid-19 forced nearly everyone in the office to go remote practically overnight and court proceedings to take place virtually. Third, is the rise of social movements and the world’s shifting attitudes toward law enforcement and, for some, a loss of confidence in the profession.

There was no playbook for the circumstances of 2020. Every decision you made, everything you tried to accomplish, you were flying by the seat of your pants. It was a very unique year for me and for any District Attorney. While there’s been so many lessons picked up along the way, one thing I would suggest everyone take away from this, is that no matter where you are in your career, you’re always learning.

What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?

There are so many interesting cases I was involved in. Five years in the FBI certainly contributed to that. One that sticks out was my time as County Court Judge. I was the judge overseeing the Criminal Procedure Law 440 hearing (which is an application for a new trial based upon a Westchester murder conviction) for Donald Frankos aka “Tony the Greek.” For those who don’t know, Donald Frankos was one of the mafia’s most notorious hitmen. He claimed to be part of the “team” that killed Jimmy Hoffa going on record stating that Hoffa’s body is buried in the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

For me inspiration comes from incidents and situations, and the people who are in these situations who do what is right rather than what is best for them. I am impressed by people who act this way day in and day out.

On a personal level, my father was a big motivator in my life. He was an attorney and heavily involved in public service.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?

I’m often asked this question by students considering going into law. I tell them all the time a law degree is a passport to a number of different career paths. It’s the most flexible degree out there allowing you to do almost anything — except practice medicine. Take a look at my career. I began as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the city of Mt. Vernon, went on to be a special agent in the FBI, then served as Assistant VP of Corporate Security for an international bank, moved on to be an elected NY State trial judge, then DA, and now onto private practice. Throughout this time, I also taught law, in the evenings to students seeking their Masters and Law degrees, at several different New York-based colleges and universities.

A law degree helps you to develop the analytical skills needed to evaluate the pros and cons of different situations — no matter the field.

If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?

Having just come off managing the sweeping criminal justice reforms that were enacted by the New York state legislature last year, I would ensure that when these changes are introduced it comes with adequate resources for implementation. Right now, DAs are faced with putting into place unfunded mandates.

Second, we need to streamline the state court system for uniformity. There are local courts, family, county, surrogate, supreme, etc. In Westchester County, where I was DA, we have 40 different local courts as compared to Nassau County (Long Island), for example, which has less than a handful of district courts.

Finally, we learned from Covid that virtual conferences can be successfully conducted. I encourage this format to be utilized, even in a post-Covid world, for all civil and criminal matters. Operating this way is both a time and money saver for the system.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Passing along my knowledge and trying to be the best role model I can be. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time mentoring students, took on hundreds of interns, and was a college professor for years teaching at Long Island University, IONA, and Pace Law School.

I think I’ve had the greatest impact by helping young people who are trying to decide where to go in their careers and molding our future leaders. So many students I’ve taught or mentored are now practicing attorneys, doing very well in their own right. Seeing people achieve their own level of success for me is the definition of success.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

I’ve been driven by different things at different times in my life. My family has always been a primary driver and all of my decisions are founded on what’s best for them.

Having said that, my first love was law enforcement and the desire to help other people, and protect them. Whether it was my job as a lifeguard or as a judge or the DA, I’ve always had the urge to protect and help people.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

Here’s a few I wish I’d known.

In the world of law and really any career, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. What I mean by that, is don’t feel you always have to follow what’s considered the traditional path. Usually, one becomes a trial judge much later in their career. Typically, you start off at a law firm and eventually become a judge. That’s the traditional or “straight” line.” I went off the line and became an FBI agent, then worked for an international bank, then became a trial judge at 32. So long as you’re moving forward, you can shorten the distance.

The world of politics is not for the faint of heart. When you’re running for office and campaigning, it is an all-consuming event. There is a price, and any sense of work/life balance is the price.

Without sounding trite, politics is also highly political. Everyone deals with politics in their professional life, whether you’re a teacher, an administrator, or working in the corporate world. Understanding how to navigate people’s different agendas and not carrying disappointments and disagreements with you, is so important. You need to move forward and shed those burdens.

Careers in public service are incredibly important and come with a huge sense of responsibility. My mom used to say, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.” You come across a lot of people in a career as long as mine that want the titles, they want the accolade but they don’t want to do what it takes to actually fulfill the role.

I will say I’ve also been incredibly fortunate. I never felt I worked for a living. We all know the Mark Twain quote, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Roger Federer, I’m a huge tennis fan. He’s not only a tremendous athlete but a great ambassador. Not to mention, I could really use some help on my top spin backhand.

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