Bail Re­form Law con­tin­ues to draw op­po­si­tion

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Glenn Grif­fith ggrif­[email protected]­gian.com @cn­weekly on Twit­ter

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.”

GLENN GRIF­FITH - MEDIANEWS GROUP

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

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