Bail Reform Law continues to draw opposition
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. >> New York State’s Bail Reform Law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, will transform the way judges set bail for defendants accused of non-violent crimes.
As the date draws nearer anxiety from those who work in the judicial system and law enforcement is growing. That apprehension is also increasing among some residents as the details in the law find a wider audience.
A panel discussion on the new law was held last week in Clifton Park. The meeting was sponsored by the Clifton Park Neighborhood Watch, a group with 1,600 members.
The two-hour-long meeting on Dec. 18 at town hall was included a 10-member panel composed of representatives from Sen. Jim Tedisco’s office, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office, New York State Bail Bondsman Association, Clifton Park Town Court, Shenendehowa School District, and the Town of Clifton Park.
The meeting drew 25 residents.
Though several of those on the panel seemed resigned to the law taking effect, and acknowledged that reform of the state’s bail system was long overdue, no one spoke in support of it. Neither did anyone in the audience.
The most vocal opponent of the law was Town Justice James Hughes. As a town judge he is one of those who will feel the effect of the changes in the law most directly. He has been a town judge for 38 years.
Presently Hughes takes the early morning phone calls from law enforcement after an arrest is made. With the new law soon to take effect that may change. Hughes admitted he is not looking forward to jumping out of bed for an arraignment just to hand out tickets.
“Taking the discretion from a local judge is like taking away my tools; and (the public) is wondering why the job isn’t being done,” he said. “I used to care. I don’t care anymore. If the Legislature doesn’t care then I don’t care. I started complaining about this in March. Now it’s three weeks away and it’s an emergency.”
Town Supervisor Philip Barrett was another panelist who showed his frustration with the situation.
“New York,” he said, “is fast becoming the land of make believe where everything is okay and anything goes. When you consider the series of new legislation that will be affecting every community and every citizen in New York State in 2020 and beyond it’s very concerning.”
Barrett went on to list several legislated changes he views as being complementary in their effects to the Bail Reform Law.
“The expansion of the drug culture and the apparent lessening of concern for that by many of our elected officials and other concerning tends will most definitely cost us at the local level and across the state,” he said. “There will be a costs in property damage, insurance, the loss of valuables through theft, increased cost on municipalities, and burdens and costs for law enforcement and judicial departments tasked with executing the new laws coming out of Albany.”
He added that he views the Bail Reform Act as a bad law, a bad trend; one that leaves him concerned for Clifton Park as well as municipalities across the state.
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, another panelist, acknowledged there is a need for bail reform but questioned how far the new law goes.
“We can recommend bail to a judge, we can’t set it,” she said. “Previously
the judges could assess each particular set of circumstances surrounding that case. The new law has a blanket effect where judges can consider a nonmonetary form of bail or not. Where we’ve been and where we’re going is a huge leap.
“We’re taking out the fact that each and every case has always been evaluated, prosecuted, defended and adjudicated based upon the unique set of facts and circumstances of that particular case.”
Heggen said in her eyes that situation is a glaring example of how the legislators who passed the bill did not take factor into the equation the positions of other stakeholders.
She added that in many local, non-violent cases, her office wasn’t even asking for bail when certain crimes occurred and that in similar cases law enforcement weren’t even arresting subjects and bringing them in to court. They themselves, she said, were issuing appearance tickets.
“In my opinion bail is changing because someone decided we don’t trust judges anymore,” she said.
Questions from the audience were focused on the law’s apparent one sidedness favoring suspects in criminal activity over law abiding citizens and on what could be done to prevent it from taking effect.
When the meeting concluded Ann Connolly, the president of the Clifton Park Neighborhood Watch, was asked why the panel had no one to speak in support of the law.
“We put our requests for panelists out on social media along with the notice of the meeting itself,” she said. “These are the only people who responded. We wanted to keep it local.”
When pressed that it’s only fair to make a concerted effort to get the other side heard, especially for something as controversial as this particular law, Connolly was adamant that she had done that and no one responded to take that position.
“It was advertised. They could have come. They could have come and been part of the audience,” she said. “It was all over social media but they were not interested. At least we’re doing something about it in Clifton Park.”
Four of the 10 members of a panel on that discussed the Bail Reform Law at Clifton Park Town Hall last week. From left to right: Jay Bernardo, president of the NYS Bailbondsmen Association, Jonathan Pirro, policy director for state Sen. Jim Tedisco, Clifton Park Town Judge James Hughes, and Town Supervisor Philip Barrett