LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 1 - JANUARY 7

Excessive Bail:

  • In Brooklyn, a 25-34 year old Black man was accused of attempting to steal a Nike tracksuit valued at $110, and of brandishing a screwdriver when approached by the store’s loss prevention officer. The tracksuit was recovered, the screwdriver was reportedly confiscated, no one was injured in the incident. The prosecutor requested $10,000 bail. Defense said that request was excessive and pointed out that the accused has a serious physical disability, is parenting three children, and would be unable to afford bail. Judge Calabrese set bail at $10,000 bond/$7,500 cash.

  • A 45-54 year old Black man in Brooklyn was accused of driving while intoxicated. ADA Almog requested $25,000 bail. Defense said that the ADA’s bail request was excessive and argued that the accused, who makes $300/week, would be unable to afford it. Defense further pointed out that a Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) deemed the accused a low flight risk, and requested that the accused be RORed. Judge Ambekar set bail at $5,000.

  • In Manhattan, a 25-34 year old Black man was accused of assault. ADA Benjamin requested $7,000 bail. Defense said that request was excessive, and that given the accused’s inability to afford the requested bail, it would effectively serve as a remand. Judge Drysdale set bail at $3,000.

  • In Brooklyn, a 25-34 year old White woman was charged with assault after being accused of hitting her child. The prosecutor requested $20,000 bail, and did not mention anything about the accused being a flight risk. Defense said requested bail was excessive and that the accused could not afford that much. Further, defense said that photo evidence did not match the allegations. Defense requested that the accused be RORed. Judge Calabrese set bail at $10,000.

  • In Brooklyn, a young Black man who is currently a psychiatric patient receiving care in a hospital faced multiple charges for allegedly assaulting another patient. The prosecutor requested $10,000 bail. Defense argued that the requested bail was excessive, said that the accused would be unable to afford bail, and pointed out that the accused was a low flight risk since he was currently receiving treatment at the hospital. Defense further suggested that what the accused needed the most was ongoing medical care. Judge Calabrese set $10,000 bail for the top charge and $2,000 for the second charge.

Observations on Court Proceedings:

  • A court watcher in Manhattan noted that during arraignments on January 5, 2019, Judge Drysdale “really moved cases along quickly,” and in many cases “didn’t even allow defense to make bail arguments.” The observer said that proceedings “felt more rushed than usual” and voiced concern that the fast pace may have contributed to the day’s pattern of unusually high bail.

  • On January 5, 2019, court watchers in Manhattan reported a case in which the accused became distressed after the judge repeatedly told him to stop speaking during his arraignment. At one point, the accused said, “I have a right to talk,” following which the incident escalated. Court officers quickly surrounded the accused and removed him from the courtroom.

  • Court watchers reported confusion and tension between Judge Dougherty and an interpreter during arraignments in Brooklyn on January 7, 2019. As per their observations, Judge Dougherty “condescendingly told [the] interpreter how to interpret” and repeatedly told the accused and the interpreter to “stop.” Later in the arraignment, when the accused continued talking after being told to stop, Judge Dougherty “refused to have it interpreted.”

Standout Cases:

  • In Brooklyn, a teenage Black woman was charged with robbery after being accused of stealing a cell phone at knifepoint. ADA Almog requested $10,000 bail. Many of the allegations brought against the accused were refuted by the defense, which stated that the accused did not, in fact, have a knife during the incident. Defense further pointed out that the accused is a senior in high school currently living with her boyfriend’s mother after being the victim of abuse. Given the accused’s current living situation, such high bail would be impossible for her to pay. Judge Ambekar set bail at $2,000.

  • Court watchers reported confusion with the outcome of an arraignment in Brooklyn on January 7, 2019. The case involved a non-violent dispute about a reportedly loaned-out cell phone. The prosecutor requested an order of protection against the accused even though the complaining witness explicitly requested no order of protection. Despite the complaining witness’ request, and although the dispute under question was not violent, Judge Dougherty issued a full order of protection.


Reflection from a Watcher

I was really disturbed by this morning's Court Watch shift in Brooklyn.

Judge Calabrese set bail in every case where the ADA asked for it — nine cases total in three hours. The bail he set was excessive in every case, ranging from $5,000 to $500,000, and he did not appear to take the accused person’s ability to pay into consideration in any case. During shifts with other judges, I've rarely seen bail set above $2,000 (the legal maximum for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund to be able to pay), even for domestic violence, assault and gun possession charges. With Judge Calabrese, every single individual’s bail was well above the $2,000 limit, virtually ensuring that they will remain in jail for days, weeks, or months even though they haven't been convicted of a crime.

Almost every time he set bail, Judge Calabrese said, "I think some bail is appropriate," before setting an astronomically high, totally unaffordable amount of bail. To be fair, the bail he set was often much less than the bail ADA Jonathan Hagler requested, but that's because ADA Hagler was requesting even more exorbitantly high bail.

One particularly memorable case involved a domestic dispute between two women, a couple, after one of the women initiated a breakup with the other. One of the women allegedly hid the other woman's gun; the breakup became physically violent, the police were called, and one woman was arrested. Later, the police returned and asked to search the apartment, where they found additional guns and bullets in the women's bedroom and in the bedroom of an uninvolved roommate, an older male Army veteran, who said that his weapons had belonged to his deceased father. The other woman and the roommate were subsequently arrested. The bail set in this case was $10,000 bond/$7,500 cash for each of the women, and $5,000 for the male roommate. The defense attorney pointed out that there were clear consent issues with regard to the police search, but Judge Calabrese seemed to ignore that fact when setting bail.

What I want to ask Judge Calabrese is: Who is made safer by having all three of these individuals locked up for the indefinite future? It is possible that one of the women is a victim of an ongoing abusive relationship; why should she be locked up? Why should a veteran in possession of family heirlooms spend the foreseeable future in jail because of a dispute that he was not involved in between his two roommates? The entire situation was so manifestly unfair, but ADA Hagler requested bail for each individual, and Judge Calabrese dutifully set bail without any regard for compassion or sanity.

As we watched Judge Calabrese set exorbitant bail after exorbitant bail, my friend and fellow Court Watcher googled Judge Calabrese and found that he's received lots of glowing press in recent years for his ostensibly "compassionate," "problem-solving" approach to criminal justice. It was shocking to see that this judge, easily the most callous I've seen since beginning Court Watch, has claimed to be a reformer. It's because of heartless, thoughtless judges like Calabrese that we need not just bail reform but the complete abolition of pretrial incarceration in New York State.