Some lawyers said the Kelly inquiry gave District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. a chance to show his office's competence
Given the inherent potential for tension between police departments and prosecutors, any district attorney might be reluctant to investigate the son of a police commissioner.
But for Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, investigating the rape accusation made this week against Greg Kelly, a local television news anchor and son of the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, carries other layers of complexity.
Two years into Mr. Vance’s tenure running one of the nation’s most prominent prosecution offices, the cases in which the office’s actions have received the most criticism involved highly publicized allegations of sexual assault . Those were the cases against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, which Mr. Vance ultimately dropped; and against on-duty police officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin L. Mata, who were convicted only on lesser charges.
The facts of the complaint against Greg Kelly are far from fully known; sources said a woman accused Mr. Kelly of raping her in October in her office building in Lower Manhattan after they shared cocktails at a bar. Because it involved the commissioner’s son, the Police Department referred the matter to Mr. Vance’s office for investigation.
Robert M. Morgenthau, Mr. Vance’s predecessor and onetime boss, who ran the office for 35 years, said he could not recall a case in which the entire Police Department was left out of a criminal inquiry because of a potential conflict of interest.
Some experienced New York lawyers said that for Mr. Vance, the case was an opportunity, not so much for a high-profile conviction as to show competency in the political aspect of his job.
One longtime observer of the office, who would speak only anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter, said: “I would think that people would be looking to see, O.K., is this going to be kind of a reasonable process that instills confidence that there has been a competent investigation, things have proceeded fairly, and people can see that justice has been done.”
To be sure, Mr. Vance has shown no hint of shying away from difficult cases involving sexual assault, which can be among the most challenging to pursue.
In this case, the woman’s complaint was filed three months after the encounter she described.
She told the police that her boyfriend had become angry when he learned about the night. He approached the police commissioner at a public event and told him that the younger Mr. Kelly had sexually assaulted his girlfriend. The commissioner, according to the woman’s account, told the boyfriend to write a letter. A spokesman for Commissioner Kelly, Paul J. Browne, said he was not aware of the commissioner’s having received such a letter.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took no issue with the commissioner’s handling of the matter. “In this case I thought the Police Department did exactly what they should do,” the mayor said Thursday in a news conference.
The younger Mr. Kelly, 43, has denied the accusation, through his lawyer, Andrew M. Lankler.
On Thursday, he did not appear in his usual spot as co-anchor of “Good Day New York” on the Fox station WNYW (Channel 5). Lew Leone, the general manager of the station, said Mr. Kelly had requested some time off, but he declined to elaborate.
The case was the talk of local courthouses.
The defense lawyer Gerald L. Shargel said that because of the complexity of such accusations and the involvement of the commissioner’s son, if he were a prosecutor he “would hate to see this one dropped on my head.”
Linda A. Fairstein, who became the nation’s best-known prosecutor of sex crimes during a 30-year career in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said the case would not be at all extraordinary if it did not involve a well-known suspect. Rape accusations that include the accuser drinking are as common as they are difficult to prove, she said.
Alcohol is a horribly influential factor in these cases when it’s voluntarily ingested,” said Ms. Fairstein, who has written several legal thrillers since her retirement a decade ago. “When a victim tells you she can’t remember what happened, it’s very hard to make a case.”
Ms. Fairstein said Mr. Vance could have passed the case off to a district attorney in another county if its implications had unduly concerned him.
I don’t think this is a case that is going to trouble Cy or the office,” she said.
Mr. Morgenthau said complicated cases involving public figures come with the turf. “That’s what you get that big salary for,” he said. “You have to take the hard cases. I’m sure he’ll handle it appropriately.”