College Scholar graduate takes position in local DA’s office

As a College Scholar and Mellon Mays fellow at Cornell, Ariana Marmora ’11 found ways to combine her interests in government, philosophy, intellectual history, comparative literature and public service.

As the newest assistant district attorney in the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, Marmora is combining all of her skills to tackle a job that’s about more than just prosecuting cases, she said.

Coming from six years of work with Mobilization for Justice in New York City— an organization that advocates for people who are facing challenges related to housing, homelessness, eviction and other issues — Marmora is shifting gears a bit in joining the DA’s office. But she says she often puts herself in situations that are new and kind of uncomfortable.

“I’ll still be asking the same questions I asked as an advocate—Does this person have safe housing, are they struggling with food insecurity, mental health or substance abuse issues? Do they have access to education and adequate healthcare?” she said. “We have to challenge the false narratives imposed on poor people that have no basis in material reality.”

She’s also excited that she will be leading the DA’s office efforts to implement a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, patterned after a successful program in Seattle that helps to direct low-level offenders to community-based services rather than jail or prosecution.

Marmora grew up on a farm in Schuyler County so she knows the area well. As a student at Cornell, she gravitated toward the College Scholar program because she wanted to study a host of different fields. Her research project as a Mellon Mays Fellow allowed her to study inequities related to gentrification and planted the seed for what her early legal interests would become.

“I had a strong interest in how gentrification works on a material level versus all of the language that people use to talk about it, which is really divorced from the conditions that actually make a city change,” she said.

After her Cornell graduation, she earned a law degree at the City University of New York, knowing she wanted to work in some sort of public interest law.

As an attorney with Mobilization for Justice, she spent a significant amount of time in trials and successfully handled the case of Jose Reyes, which challenged the eviction of a tenant with mental health disabilities and reaffirmed the right to reasonable accommodations for tenants in eviction proceedings. That case is now cited by a host of other attorneys seeking to advocate for fair housing practices for people with disabilities, Marmora said.

She said her advocacy training will be beneficial in her new role and she is looking forward to expanding her experience in criminal law. She’s been assigned to the Ithaca City treatment court and Ithaca City Court, where she’ll be handling everything from traffic tickets to misdemeanor drug charges.

“I think I’m going to be a different prosecutor than a lot of traditional prosecutors,” she said.

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