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Westchester DA Candidate Tries to Shroud Bar Exam Failures

By GLENN BLAIN
THE JOURNAL NEWS

October 7, 2005

Tony Castro, the Democratic candidate for Westchester County district attorney, struggled to pass the bar exam in both Massachusetts and New York, taking and failing the test multiple times in each state before he finally passed.

Castro, who has pledged to restore "honesty and integrity" to the county prosecutor's office, also was forced from his job as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx for more than a year in the mid-1980s because he could not pass the exam a fact that is not included in the resume he posted on his campaign Web site.

In a phone interview yesterday, Castro said his struggles to pass the bar exam "had nothing to do" with his qualifications to serve as district attorney. He also insisted the information on his campaign Web site is accurate.

"Just ask the violent offenders that I have successfully tried and prosecuted myself," an angry Castro said. "Go ask them if my failing the bar had anything to with my abilities as a prosecutor. I am the most qualified candidate to be the district attorney."

Castro said information in another part of his Web site states that he served 14 years as a prosecutor in the Bronx District Attorney's Office. That number dates from the time he was able to get his job back after passing the bar.

"The resume is a summary," said Castro, who is running against Republican Janet DiFiore, a former state Supreme Court justice from Eastchester.

DiFiore spokesman Lucian Chalfin said Castro's performance on the bar exam and his questionable resume raise questions about his ability to run the office and his credibility.

"Is this really who you would want, as a Westchester resident, running one of the largest district attorney's offices in the country?" Chalfin said.

The revelations about his record come at a critical time for Castro, who has struggled to raise money and publicize his campaign against the well-funded DiFiore. His experience as a lawyer and a Bronx prosecutor is a focal point of his campaign.

Castro ran for the post in 2001 but lost to Republican Jeanine Pirro by 6 points.

Bar officials in Massachusetts said that Castro, a 1986 graduate of Boston College Law School, took the exam in 1986 and 1987, failing each time. He passed in 1988 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in June of that year.

Officials at the New York Board of Law Examiners, which oversees the state's bar exams, declined to provide information on Castro's record, citing state privacy laws. Information on the state Office of Court Administration's Web site shows that he was admitted to the bar in 1988.

The Bronx District Attorney's Office confirmed that, in August 1986, Castro was hired as an assistant district attorney under what's known as a special practice order, which allows recent law school graduates to work as prosecutors before they pass the bar. Under the order, new hires have two chances to pass the bar before they must give up their jobs.

Castro, according to the D.A.'s office, was forced to resign in June 1987, after he failed the test in New York for a second time. Once he passed the exam, he resumed work at the D.A.'s office Aug. 1, 1988.

On the resume posted on Castro's Web site, it lists "August 1986 -June 2001" as the period he worked as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx. No mention is made of the 13 months that he was not able to work as a prosecutor.

Castro said the resume is accurate because he worked at the D.A.'s office for at least part of each year between August 1986 and June 2001.

A native of Mount Vernon, DiFiore spent 12 years as a prosecutor in the Westchester County District Attorney's Office, working in special investigations and later as chief of the narcotics bureau. She was elected a state judge in 2002 after four years as a Westchester County judge.