14 JANUARY 9, 2020 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
Bail reform controversy marks Katz’s fi rst week in offi ce
BY MAX PARROTT
Criminal justice reform advocates persistently
protested the fi rst week of Queens District
Attorney Melinda Katz tenure, aft er her offi
ce asked for cash bail on her fi rst day – breaking
with her campaign promise to end the practice
Members of Our Progressive Future and candidates
for various political offi ces rallied on Friday
outside Queens County Criminal Court. Then on
Monday evening, around a dozen activists from
Court Watch NYC and other groups showed up
outside Katz’s inauguration to hold the new DA
accountable to her campaign promises.
Their complaints have not landed on deaf ears.
Katz ended her inauguration speech on Monday
night by addressing her critics directly. She admitted
that her offi ce did not do away completely with
the practice on its fi rst day, but she was still “committed
to ending cash bail in all forms. Period.”
Then she went on to include a caveat.
“That’s a preposterous standard. It was not
something that was achievable without the infrastructure
on supervised release and all that
we need to support that in place. It’s an ongoing
process, but we need to make sure that the way we
do it is sustainable,” Katz said.
As the Queens Eagle reported, in the very fi rst
case to land in her offi ce on Jan. 1, Katz’s assistant
district attorney asked for $50,000 bail before a
judge set it for $2,000. The defendant was a man
charged with fi rst-degree robbery for allegedly
stealing a cellphone aft er threatening its owner
with a sharp object. The public defender representing
the defendant asked for him to be released
The protests are a form of residue of Katz’s
turbulent primary battle with public defender
Tiff any Cabán, whose candidacy, her supporters
claim, pushed Katz to take her hardline position
on all forms of cash bail.
“We are here to make clear that our demands are
that she keeps to the promise that she made to all
of us here in Queens,” Cabán campaign organizer
Zohran Mamdani said outside the inauguration.
Mamdani is also a DSA-backed insurgent candidate
running for state Assembly in Astoria.
As the protesters addressed attendees walking
into the inauguration ceremony, the lawyer who
arraigned the $50,000-bail case on Jan. 1 happened
to be one of them. The lawyer declined to comment,
but her colleague Lori Zeno, the executive
director of Queens Defenders, shouted back at
the protesters that she thought they were being
Zeno told QNS that the defendant had been arrested
for a felony drug case three days prior to
his Jan. 1 arrest and pointed out that he violently
threatened the complainant with a knife. This is
what any DA would do, she said.
“He was also what’s called a discretionary persistent,
so if found to be persistent aft er he was
convicted … 25 to life. So he’s kind of a violent guy,”
Zeno said. “I’m a public defender, so here I am defending
the DA right? And that’s because that’s the
fair thing to do.”
On the other hand, many bail reform advocates
maintain that bail should not be the means of ensuring
people remain incarcerated before trial
– whether the crime was violent or not.
“There should not be any way for anyone to be
too poor to buy their freedom,” said Katelin Penner,
an organizer with Our Progressive Future at both
In fact, Katz made this very same point in her inauguration
speech, before arguing that she would
not institute an all-encompassing bail reform
policy until she had more resources in place.
“Our system will need to go through changes.
But while fi guring it out – and we will fi gure it
out – we will keep our communities safe, which is
the reason I was elected Queens district attorney,”
Peggy Herrera rallies for bail reform at District
Attorney Melinda Katz’s inauguration.
Photo: Max Parrott/QNS
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