LAST WEEK IN COURT

FEBRUARY 12 - FEBRUARY 18

Hearing complaints continue in Manhattan and Brooklyn. in Manhattan on February 14th watchers could not figure out the judges nor the ADAs names for the entire shift, and in Brooklyn on February 16th watchers reported around seven police officers in the court and ADAs speaking loudly off to the side throughout the arraignments, preventing them from being able to hear the court proceedings.

In Manhattan, a young Black man was arrested for his use of a bent metrocard and was released on his own recognizance. Court watchers ask: what is the point of arresting someone for a bent metrocard? Threat of spending the night in jail? Putting it on the record? Also in Manhattan, multiple petit larceny cases were ROR’d and referred to CASES program. Court watchers wonder again, what is the point of arresting someone for petit larceny in these instances?

In Manhattan, police arrested a Black man who has a full time job, works six days a week, lives with his mother, and does not live in the apartment where the drugs in question were found. The co-defendant told the police the drugs were hers, but ADA Mauck requested bail at $50k and Judge Thompson set $15k.

In Brooklyn on February 14, Judge Gingold welcomed a group of visitors (potentially judges?) from Japan and repeatedly delayed hearings to explain the court proceedings to them. In one case, she forgot to sign a form because she was distracted, “Wait, don’t go anywhere, I forgot to sign because I’m telling them what I’m doing.” Another observer remarked, “They do more talking than working in here!” The same judge took a phone call in the middle of the defense’s plea for a defendant, who she then remanded.

In Brooklyn, a 24 year-old Black man with epilepsy and ADHD was arrested for grand larceny and fugitive warrant for a misdemeanor case (possession of small amount of marijuana) in Pennsylvania. His family was in the courtroom and ready to take him back to PA. Defense requested medical attention, food, and psychological treatment for the accused. In the middle of the defense’s plea, Judge Gingold took a phone call and left the courtroom. When the judge returned she remands the accused man, sending him to Rikers with no bail. Family sobbing, audibly concerned about their family member’s wellbeing.


Reflection from a Watcher

The entire night I only saw one white defendant and he was escorted to a different room. It was all men of color, primarily Black. Not one case expressed social harm; they exacerbated it. I saw a theft of services (turnstile jump) case that was dismissed, but he brought in in handcuffs and handed a metrocard to go home. Why not NOT arrest him and save all the time, trauma, and money? Another man in cuffs was brought in on a warrant from 20 years ago for walking in between subway cars. How is that even a crime? He got an ACD. Why not a dismissal? I saw another man plead guilty for possession of cocaine and get 30 days. Everyone knows that’s not going to help, including the judge and DA. No one cares.


Reflection from a Watcher

There were two judges sitting in arraignments today because the more experienced one, Joseph Gubbay, was training a new judge, Kerry Ward, who was just appointed by De Blasio last month. Both judges seemed very much on the same page, and both were outraged at the ADAs' leniency. In at least three cases, the ADA explicitly consented to ROR and one or both judges (sometimes when Ward was sitting Gubbay would break in--at one point he even said something like "I don't mean to double-team you, but...") set bail anyway, berating the ADAs in the process. Nearly every time bail was set, defense counsel explained that the client couldn't pay and asked to be allowed to pay by credit card, and the court always refused. In one additional case the judges set bail without even hearing from the ADAs, and in another case where the defendant had warranted, Judge Ward set bail even though defense counsel had stated the accused was homeless. (I'm not sure if the ADA was given a chance to take a position on bail in that warrant case.)

For example, one accused person was arraigned on two cases; the former was a DV case, and in the latter he allegedly threatened a stranger with a knife. The ADA requested orders of protection and consented to ROR, but Judge Ward questioned the ADA, asking why they weren't seeking bail. The ADA didn't budge but Ward clearly wasn't satisfied and turned to the defense. Defense counsel disputed the facts of both cases and stated the defendant's last contact was 7 years ago, he's employed full-time, cares for his two minor children, and if bail were set he could lose his job. Judge Ward asked the defense how much bail the defendant could afford and didn't seem to be paying attention as the defense said none. Judge Ward set bail at $1000.

In another case, the accused person was charged with reckless driving and other offenses and the prosecutor offered a plea to VTL 509 with a fine. The defense agreed but Judge Ward rejected the offer, and Judge Gubbay appeared to jump up to yell at the ADA, saying that failing to install an interlock device was a "very very serious crime," as was reckless driving. The ADA continued to consent to ROR but the judges refused and ordered defense counsel to make a bail argument. Defense counsel continued to ask for ROR, but Judge Ward, after asking about defendant's ability to pay and hearing that he had only $100, set bail in the amount of $1000 bond/$1000 cash. Defense asked for unsecured or credit card bail and Judge Ward refused.

In another case, Judge Ward opened by instructing the ADA not to make an offer because she wanted the case to go to MBTC (a drug treatment court). The ADA nevertheless made an offer on the record of a plea to the charge (an A misdemeanor) and time served. Judge Gubbay then stood up and intensely berated the ADA for making an offer when Ward had told him not to; Gubbay complained that if an offer of time served was on the table the accused would surely take it, and "you are undermining" the judge's intention for the case to go to MBTC. At one point in his tirade from the bench he even stated that this was "off the record," though I don't know if the court reporter stopped taking it down or not. Gubbay closed by saying, "No offer is to be made if it's being transferred to MBTC." The ADA, chastened, mumbled an apology, and the defense counsel explained that they had already agreed on the offer, the ADA was merely holding up his end of the bargain, and the client did not want treatment. The case was nevertheless sent to MBTC.