• In Brooklyn, Judge Edwards set an order of protection with an access order pending a family court hearing for a middle-aged Asian woman. Both court watchers noted that the judge “softened” at the mention of family members in attendance. She said, “Family in the audience, that’s always preferable for the court to know that you have support in the community.”

  • In Brooklyn, Judge Kitsis was very critical of a defendant’s previous missed court date. In October, 2018, the accused person was ROR’d but cited severe medical issues preventing him from appearing. The missed court date was discussed off the record. The ADA was requesting $10,000 bail although the individual had no history of flight. In court, the accused explained his missed court date because his feet were shattered and he was in a wheelchair. The judge replied irrelevantly, “I have a friend who lives in a wheelchair and she gets everywhere.”

  • A black man was arrested in Brooklyn for allegedly failing to pay court fees. Court watchers noted that Judge Gubbay spoke to the accused condescendingly, demanding how he could have failed to understand where to pay court fees after two judges explained it to him. Defense asked that Judge Gubbay give the accused a month to pay all fees, but Judge Gubbay gave him a two week deadline, telling the man “pay or jail.”

  • There was some confusion regarding a case in which a black man was accused of violating an order of protection after leaving a voicemail. The ADA requested $7,000 bail and wrongfully stated that the accused is currently on probation (he is not, as was clarified later in the proceedings). Defense requested $1 bail. Judge Gubbay set bail at $2,000. After the arraignment, court watchers were concerned about the ADA’s error, noting: “what else is she wrong about?”

  • Court watchers were alarmed when Judge Gubbay remanded an individual accused of driving while under the influence—after defense requested ROR and ADA consented to ROR.

  • A black man was charged with petit larceny and after some confusion about the case, the ADA requested $2,000 bail. Defense requested the accused be released on his own recognizance (ROR), pointing out that the accused is facing a charge for non-violent, “minimal” shoplifting. Defense also stated that the accused currently lives in a shelter and would presumably be unable to pay any bail. Judge Gubbay set bail at $1,500 bond/$750 cash.

Reflection from a Watcher

Last Sunday evening in Manhattan, myself and the three other watchers with me all walked away from our shift with one specific case lingering in our minds. The ADA that night, Michael McConnell, was eager to request bail, often citing as much dramatic evidence in each case as possible to convince Judge Thompson of its necessity. However, his highest bail request came in a case that seemed to lack any evidence altogether. A 19-year-old Black male with no record was charged with possession of a gravity knife as well as for possessing 12 cards (credit cards, student IDs, benefit cards, etc), none of which belonged to him. However, when pressed by the defense why the young man had been stopped in the first place at 3 AM walking through a subway station, considering that the weapon had not been visible and was only found once he was frisked, the ADA could not come up with a single reason why. Despite all this, the ADA asked for $25,000 bail — his highest all night.

Everyone in court that night seemed surprised by this, and the defense fired back, questioning everything from why a stop & frisk had taken place to why it was even being considered a felony charge. He also referenced back to an earlier case that night where the ADA had assigned $20,000 bail in a domestic violence case in which the defendant had an extensive criminal record and a wealth of prior failure to appears. Such a comparison really shone a light on the often arbitrary nature of bail assignments, and the lack of correlation between severity of bail and the defendant’s actual flight risk.

After hearing both sides, Judge Thompson agreed to a far lower, but still prohibitive, bail amount of $1000 cash/$1000 bond with a credit card option. We all left court that night wondering if he would be able to make bail, or whether he would sit in jail based on a stop-and-frisk arrest, a practice that was ruled as racially biased and unconstitutional nearly five years ago but obviously continues to persist.