Daniel Donovan ’78NDC
A Compassionate Crusader for Justice: Daniel Donovan ’78NDC
When Daniel Donovan ’78NDC came to the Staten Island campus as a freshman in 1974, he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in Criminal Justice. Today, nearly four decades later, his commitment to righting wrongs one victim at a time is stronger than ever. A caring person by nature, Donovan’s many years as an investigator and prosecutor have exposed him to the suffering that all crime victims experience. He sees his responsibility to bring the individuals who have caused that suffering to justice as a meaningful and personal way to make a real difference for those in need.
Currently serving as Staten Island District Attorney, he began his career as a Detective Investigator in the office of the Brooklyn District Attorney, where he got his first taste of how the Criminal Justice system really worked. Realizing that a legal degree would be of major importance in his profession, he earned his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law at night while working two jobs during the day.
“I’ve always loved the law, and knew that I could do so much more for people once I had that degree,” he said. “After my second year at Fordham I took a summer internship at a prestigious New York law firm, and stayed with them for a year after graduation. During that time I realized that I was more committed to public service than to private practice, and looking back, it was one of the best decisions I’ve even made.”
He returned to public service in 1989 as Assistant Manhattan District Attorney under the tutelage of the legendary Robert Morgenthau. A few years later, this lifelong Staten Islander was appointed Chief of Staff to Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. When Molinari retired six years later, Donovan stepped up to assume the position as Deputy Borough President. He was elected Staten Island District Attorney in 2003, and subsequently re-elected in 2007 and again in 2011.
While the necessities of his position require an obvious focus on the prosecution of those who break the law, Donovan has a special place in his heart for the victims upon whom they prey. His goal has always been to do the best he can to prosecute criminals but also to ensure that his office has become a great advocate for victims and their families.
“In my office we constantly deal with people’s tragedies,” he remarked. “Crime victims don’t choose to be involved in a crime. They’re thrust into the Criminal Justice system unwillingly through no fault of their own. The sad thing is that no matter what we are able to do within the legal system to hold the criminal responsible, it never takes away the loss and the hurt that remain with the victims and their families for the rest of their lives. And so whatever comfort or assistance we’re able to give them is definitely the most rewarding part of my job.”
One of the most unique ways he has initiated to ease the suffering of victims is through the use of what he refers to as a “comfort dog.” Located within the District Attorney’s office, this specially trained dog is available to help ease the anxiety of those forced to become a part of a system that can be both daunting and frightening.
“We use the dog to comfort our crime victims and our witnesses,” he explained. “The criminal justice process can be nerve-wracking and anxiety-producing, and we found that using the dog relieves some of that anxiety and tension and allows people to describe to us, and subsequently to jurors, what happened to them. The dog comes to work in our office every day and goes home with a handler at night. My office is the only one in New York State to have a comfort dog.”
Donovan has never lost his connection to St. John’s. For many years he was a member of the Criminal Justice faculty on the Queens campus, sharing his expertise with students who might one day follow in his footsteps. Now, during each semester, he invites current students from Dr. Angelo Pisani’s Criminal Justice class to visit the District Attorney’s office for a behind-the-scenes look at what takes place throughout all aspects of the judicial process.
“Every semester we have St. John’s students visit our office,” he said, “and that’s something I really enjoy. We give them a tour of the building, have staff members speak to them, bring them into the Grand Jury room, allow them to watch some Criminal Court proceedings and introduce them to what might be a possible career choice for them. The students even get a chance to speak with a State Supreme Court Judge who handles arraignments. It also seems like every semester we have interns from St. John’s working in our office. It’s a pleasure for me to do whatever I can for the University.”
In recognition of his outstanding career and his contributions to the community, the University honored Donovan at the 34th Annual Staten Island Golf Outing.
“Many of the friendships I made as a student have lasted these 35 years since I graduated,” he said. “I’m so grateful to be honored, and reuniting with so many friends and classmates at the event brings back such fond memories. To see so many alumni come back for this golf outing shows that we still have such amazing pride in the University, and that’s truly wonderful to see.”