WXXINews: Advocates urge extending rent rules to upstate New York

By Karen Dewitt
May 9, 2019

New York City’s rent laws expire June 15, and tenant advocates and some state lawmakers think a renewal of the laws should include cities outside of New York, including upstate.

A hearing held by the state Assembly sought input on that proposal and eight other rent reform bills introduced in both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Michael McKee has been a tenant advocate in New York City for 49 years and is now a member of the recently formed Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. He acknowledged that to many lawmakers outside New York City, it’s a “new idea” to extend rent regulations.

But he said housing crises and the lack of rights for tenants in cities like Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse, make it worthy of serious consideration. And he said the momentum is coming from the tenants themselves.

“This is a national movement,” said McKee, who added that tenants have been organizing for rent regulations in Chicago and Texas, and the state of Oregon recently approved statewide rent regulations. “This is an incredibly exciting development.”

New York City has about 1 million rent-stabilized apartments. An additional 22,000 units fall under the older system known as rent control.

Currently, rent stabilization rules extend to some apartments in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties. One of the bills before the Legislature would extend the option of adopting rent stabilization in other communities in New York if the apartment vacancy rate is at 5% or lower.

Ellen Davidson is a housing attorney with the Legal Aid Society. She represents indigent tenants in court over disputes with their landlords. Davidson said tenants all over the state are virtually powerless when negotiating rental terms with the building owners.

She recounted the tale of a formerly homeless tenant offered an apartment in Buffalo “as is,” with no insulation in the walls, which she said would significantly add to fuel costs during the winter.

“They are so delighted of having the opportunity of having a roof over their heads that they accept it,” Davidson said.

Tenant advocates also are seeking to close what they say are loopholes in the current rent regulations.

One is what’s known as vacancy decontrol. It was enacted in 1997, and permits landlords to leave the regulated system in two ways. One allows the owner of the building to charge market value rents when a tenant voluntarily vacates an apartment. Under the rent stabilization system, landlords are allowed to raise rents by a set percentage each year, decided by the Rent Guidelines Board. Once that amount reaches a certain threshold, also set by the guidelines board, the apartment also can be rented for the higher, free market rate.

In the over two decades since the law was passed, 300,000 units have been phased out of the rent regulation system.

The tenant advocates would like to end vacancy decontrol and take back into the system apartments that have been deregulated in the past six years.

The advocates, as well as several Democratic lawmakers, want to pass a new law known as the “good cause” measure that would strengthen tenants’ rights when dealing with landlords seeking eviction.

Assembly Housing committee chair Steven Cymbrowitz, who presided over the hearing, said the bills are aimed at achieving a higher goal.

“Every individual, every family and every community needs quality, affordable housing,” Cymbrowitz said.

Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas also testified. She did not offer her opinion on any of the bills, but promised lawmakers that she would give them the agency’s views soon on the nine rent reform bills now before the legislature.

“I suspect we will be doing that early and often,” Visnauskas said.

In his State of the State speech in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports reforming the rent regulations and wants to end vacancy decontrol. The governor did not mention extending the rent laws to areas outside New York City and the three other downstate counties where it is permitted.

McKee urged the Democrats who lead both the Assembly and the Senate to work together and resist attempts to weaken the bills.

“We believe very strongly that if you do not work together, tenants are going to be screwed,” McKee warned. “We have a governor who will do everything he possible can to undo what we’re trying to do and water it down.”

Caitlin Girouard, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement that the governor remains “fully committed to working with the Legislature and tenant community to reform rent regulations, including ending vacancy decontrol, repealing preferential rent and limiting capital improvement charges to protect affordable housing and respect tenants’ rights.”

The real estate industry in New York City has long been opposed to rent regulations. They donated large amounts of campaign money to Republican senators when the GOP was in power in the Senate.

This year, the Democrats rule the chamber, and some have received money from the industry, as well as from other donors. But the Democrats say the contributions won’t influence their decisions on how to structure rent regulations going forward.

NY1: Tenant Harassment in a "Deluxe Apartment In The Sky"?

By Michael Herzenberg
May 9, 2019

George Sotiroff has a new kitchen and bathroom, but he didn’t want them.

"If somebody forces you to buy something you don’t want you call that extortion," he said.

His landlord completed what are called Major Capital Improvements and is passing along some of the cost to tenants.

He says the monthly rent on his regulated two bedroom on Walton Avenue in the Bronx is going from $1,000 to $1,300.

City Council Passes Bill to Close 'Kushner Loophole' "The whole idea is to displace us so that they can quadruple the rents," Sotiroff said.

Anita Grasso lives has a similar concern, but lives in a different neighborhood. Her building at 85th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan was featured in the old sitcom "The Jeffersons".

She's a rent stabilized tenant, too.

"They would like us to vacate they would like us to vacate. They would like to make our lives difficult," Grasso said.

Grasso says her landlord shut her out of her balcony for facade repairs. But the work didn't begin for six months and it's still not done another year later.

"This is purposeful without question," she added.

"We see throughout the city our clients being oppressed, harassed, pushed out, struggling to pay their rents in all sorts of types of housing," said Ellen Davidson of the Legal Aid Society.

Davidson says if the landlord of a regulated apartment can boost the rent to about $2,700 the rent can become market rate once the unit becomes vacant - an incentive for landlords to make capital improvements that aren't necessary.

Grasso says she's sure her $2,200 a month rent will rise but she’s not leaving.

"I live off my Social Security and my savings. So it would just mean my savings would run out before I die," she said.

Sotiroff is also retired from a job helping people move into affordable housing - something he hopes he doesn’t have to do for himself again.

"I would have to scramble and look for someplace to go and I really don’t want to live somewhere else," he said.

Grasso’s landlord did not respond to NY1.

Sotiroff’s did saying the building is 80 to 90 years old, the bathrooms were a wreck, none of the apartments are even close to that threshold for deregulation and this is about providing decent, affordable housing.

NY1 Noticias: ¿Cómo acceder a los servicios gratis de un abogado para evitar un desalojo?

By Philip Klint
May 9, 2019

Desde que llegó a este país de su natal Ecuador, Carlos Mora ha seguido todas las reglas.

"Yo pago mis impuestos, participo en la sociedad, hago lo mejor que puedo, participo en elecciones", dijo Mora.

Mora, su esposa y sus dos hijos han alquilado una casa de Woodside durante 11 años. Pero hace unos cuantos meses empezaron a recibir visitas y llamadas telefónicas de agentes inmobiliarios.

"Comenzó a llegar mucha gente de muchas partes a tratar de darme información, de tratar de tomar ventaja sobre mí, no había que confiar en nadie", agregó Mora.

Y es que por problemas con el banco, el dueño perdió la casa. Ahora, Mora y su familia enfrentan la posibilidad de terminar en la calle. Hace una semana recibió una carta de la corte diciendo que tenía que dejar su hogar.

Pero gracias a una ley aprobada en agosto de 2017, Mora cuenta con una importante herramienta para poder pelear el caso en la corte y quedarse en casa: representación legal gratis.

Bajo este proyecto, los residentes de bajos recursos tienen derecho de ser representados por un abogado en una corte de vivienda.

"Se busca proteger a las personas más vulnerables en la comunidad, las personas de bajos ingresos, a personas que no pueden pagar un abogado privado", explicó Yoedys Guerrero, de The Legal Aid Society.

Guerrero dice que este proyecto, la Ley del Derecho a la Defensa para Inquilinos, es el primero de su tipo en todo el país.

Hace cinco años solo uno de cada 100 inquilinos contaba con representación legal en casos relacionados a la vivienda. Esa cifra ahora supera el 40 por ciento.

Por ahora la ley solo aplica a personas que viven en determinados vecindarios de Nueva York como es el caso de Mora. Son barrios en donde se registra el mayor número de casos de desalojo.

"La ciudad ha escogido 5 codigos postales -las personas además de ser elegibles por razones económicas tienen que residir en uno de esos codigos postales-, agregó Guerrero.

La primera fase de este programa concluye en julio del 2022. Se espera que para ese entonces todos los residentes de bajos recursos tengan acceso a un abogado que los represente sin importar el vecindario en el que vivan.

En tanto la próxima cita de Mora en la corte es el 3 de junio y si bien no sabe cuál va ser el desenlace final, dice que el hecho de poder contar con esta ayuda gratis le ha quitado un enorme peso de encima.

"Para mi ha sido una gran ayuda. No me tengo que preocupar por el dinero que tengo que gastar y saber que voy a estar bien representado", concluyó Mora.

Para más información visite la página web de la ciudad sobre el programa Servicios Legales para Inquilinos.

The 42nd Annual Servant of Justice Awards

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On Thursday May 9th, The Legal Aid Society celebrated our 42nd Annual Servant of Justice Awards Dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street. This annual celebration was attended by over 700 guests, with significant representation from the New York business and legal communities.

This year, we were proud to present the Servant of Justice Award to Jeffrey L. Kessler, Executive Co-Chairman of Winston & Strawn LLP, and Michele A. Roberts, Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association, for their lasting impact on our city’s legal community.

The theme for this year’s dinner was  Community | Leadership | Impact, exemplifying what we hope to achieve through our work: the creation of new leaders from within the communities of New York City, while positively impacting individuals and families across the five boroughs.

Brian Vines – host of BRIC TV’s Going In with Brian Vines – served as the emcee for the evening. Some highlights from the night included an art auction showcasing artwork from Project Attica, and a paddle raise live auction headed by Adriene Holder, Tina Luongo and Dawne Mitchell, the heads of The Legal Aid Society’s three legal practices.

All proceeds from the event benefit The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice, which serves vulnerable New Yorkers with a wide range of legal issues, from housing and immigration, to health benefits and employment.

Report: New Yorkers Who Make Bail Still Suffer Wrongful Incarceration Due To NYC Dept. Of Correction Neglect

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The Bronx Freedom Fund (BFF) and The Legal Aid Society (LAS) released a report today on the New York City Department of Correction’s (DOC) continued failure to comply with recently enacted bail reforms, specifically Int. No. 1531A – legislation which mandates the Department to release individuals from custody who make bail within three hours or less."

Since the law's passage, fewer than a quarter of the Freedom Fund's clients have been released in compliance with the law. A recent audit of BFF and LAS client release times in the Bronx and Queens for April 2019 revealed a mean wait time after posting bail of 6 hours and 52 minutes, and a median of 5 hours and 11 minutes – which still does not comply with the times set forth by the new laws. Of the 27 clients bailed out from jail facilities, only two were released within the requisite three-hour window.

Of the 25 clients released more than three hours after bail was posted, nine were released after a period of more than seven hours; three were released more than ten hours after bail was posted; one person was detained for more than 17 hours after bail was posted; and five were jailed overnight, despite having posted bail during business hours of the previous day.

One of these clients was released at one o’clock in the morning into freezing temperatures, nine hours after he had posted bail the prior afternoon. He had recently obtained stable employment and was living in a shelter; he was unable to check in with either his shelter or his employer. This delayed release of just one night in jail thus resulted in him losing both his job and his shelter bed. While his release was being processed, he spent hours in a crowded intake cell with no access to food or water. “They treat us like dogs,” he said. “Just let us go.”

Based on Legal Aid Society data, hundreds of legally innocent New Yorkers are subjected to these illegal delays each week.

BFF and LAS first publically raised this issue last November, an Act which prompted a City Council hearing on DOC’s compliance with the reforms. The City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Unit also released a scathing report last month on the DOC’s failure to implement the new measures.

BFF and LAS will continue to issue these reports on a monthly basis until the Department comes in full compliance with the new laws, which were meant to modernize New York City’s antiquated and broken bail system.

“It's been 7 months since this law was supposed to be fully implemented and almost two years since its passage. It is inexcusable that the Department of Correction has yet to comply. As a result, every week, hundreds of low-income New Yorkers remain incarcerated for hours beyond the legal limit even after their bail has already been posted. We call on Mayor de Blasio to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves,” said Elena Weissmann from The Bronx Freedom Fund.

“DOC is not above the law, and our clients continue to suffer wrongful incarceration at Rikers Island and other facilities – some of the most dangerous jails in the country – because of the Department’s bureaucratic bumbling,” said Elizabeth Bender, Staff Attorney with the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “If Mayor Bill de Blasio is serious about fast-tracking the closure of Rikers Island, this starts with reducing the jail’s pretrial detention population. We need City Hall to better focus on DOC’s compliance with these crucial reforms.”

Statement On Proposed HUD Rule To Restrict Access To Immigrants In Public Housing

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, issued the following statement today responding to the publishing of a new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed rule to restrict access to public housing for undocumented immigrants and their families:

“Many of our clients, including those in low-income, mixed immigration status families, depend on public housing, Section 8 programs, and other Federally-funded housing programs. This cruel and inhumane rule will put entire families, including US citizen children, out on the street, and will exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis in New York and across the country.

HUD’s purported concern for reducing housing waiting lists – the Agency’s basis for this new proposal – is really a thinly-veiled attempt to further marginalize non-citizens, break-up families, and advance the Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

We will continue to fight for our clients and all vulnerable immigrants to help ensure that no one is stripped of their fundamental right to housing."

Legal Aid Testifies on Rent Regulations Before NY Assembly Housing Committee

Ellen Davidson, Staff Attorney in the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, testified before the New York Assembly Housing Committee Hearing on Rent Regulations.      

    "This combination of market forces and governmental decisions has worked together to have a devastating effect on low and moderate income New Yorkers," she said. "The declining number of vacant units available for rent, the fact that housing expansion has not kept pace with population growth, and the ongoing public housing crisis have all contributed to the scarcity of available affordable housing."

Chronicle of Social Change: New York State Court Bars Child Welfare Systems from Pursuing Arrest Warrants for Runaway Foster Kids

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Michael Fitzgerald
May 8, 2019

A New York State appellate court expressed sympathy for New York City using arrest warrants to bring runaway and possibly unstable foster youth into custody. But ultimately, the court ruled, there is no compelling reason within the law for family courts to approve such warrants for youth who have not broken any law.

“Notwithstanding that such protective arrests may have become a practice of Family Court under very compelling circumstances, in the absence of more explicit statutory authority we cannot endorse the legality of the practice,” yesterday’s ruling said.

The decision makes clear that county child welfare systems statewide may not, under current law, rely on law enforcement arrests to bring foster youth back to group homes or punish them for leaving in the first place.

The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversees child welfare and juvenile justice in New York City and was the defendant in the case, declined to comment, but the city’s law department said it may pursue the case further.

“We are considering all of our legal options, including further appeal and the corrective legislation urged by the Appellate Division,” said Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the Law Department, which represents the city in court, in an e-mailed statement. “The Appellate Division recognized that Family Court Judges, the NYPD [New York Police Department] and ACS operated with the ‘best of motives’ in these urgent situations, but concluded that the Family Court Act does not explicitly authorize the issuance of arrest warrants in non-delinquency cases.”

The nonprofit Legal Aid Society, which represented the plaintiffs, hailed the decision.

“This long running and unlawful practice that criminalized our young clients and others in foster care is finally no more,” said Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of the juvenile rights practice at the Legal Aid Society, in an e-mailed statement. “This decision recognizes that trauma is inflicted on youth when the police are involved and an unnecessary arrest is made. ACS must devise a way to deal with these situations that does not involve handcuffs. We will closely monitor our cases to ensure that this practice has fully ended.”

The case involves two teens, identified as Serenity and Zavion O., who were both voluntarily placed into foster care by their guardians. Both ended up in congregate care – group settings meant to address behavioral and mental health challenges – and ran away from those placements.

The providers and ACS, which oversees child welfare and juvenile justice, sought arrest warrants from family court so the teens could be apprehended and returned to placements. In both cases, the family court judge approved the warrants.

The motive of the courts and agencies was endorsed by the court in its decision.

“We do not suggest any criticism of the respective Family Courts in this case nor do we impute improper motives to the Administration for Children’s Services, various parties or even law enforcement, who, to all appearances, were operating on the best of motives,” the decision said. “The behavioral issues are explained and supported by medical documentation. Both have significant vulnerabilities masked by aggressive and confrontational behavior.”

But ultimately, the appellate division ruled, such a warrant should be grounded in a need to compel the person to appear in court. Its use in the interest of the children ignores potential collateral consequences that could negatively impact the teens one day.

“An arrest record, even if not correlating with a criminal record, could have future adverse ramifications for employment or otherwise,” the decision said. “Moreover, there is also the potential trauma that an arrest, especially if coupled with handcuffs or other restraints, may pose for an already fragile child. Hence, even if an arrest warrant were to be legislatively authorized for cases such as these, it should be carefully conditioned so as to be sensitive to these concerns.”

Israel Appel, an attorney for the plaintiffs who argued the case before the Appellate Division’s First Department court in Manhattan, responded to the law department’s statement that it may pursue an appeal or legislative changes on this issue.

“The best way to encourage youth to remain in their foster care placements, is to prevent the issues that cause a youth to leave in the first place. For youth to decide to leave is a scary choice for them to make. There’s something pushing them away from the placement,” said Appel, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society. “For example, serious safety issues that are being ignored. Or, if the youth has a parent visiting just once a month, that might be a problem. Not having visits with friends is also a problem.

“The solution is better casework, evidence-based and trauma-informed therapy, and meeting more than their basic needs. The legislature has already thought through these issues.”

One foster youth in ACS’ care who had been handcuffed and put in a jail cell for visiting her mother released a statement responding to the decision.

“It’s an amazing decision. ACS can’t do what they did to me and other kids in foster care. They can’t put young people in harmful situations … being arrested and confined in a jail cell is a harmful environment for developing kids and teenagers. Children in foster care are supposed to be taken care of and nurtured, not be slammed into a jail cell,” said the client of the legal aid firm Lawyers For Children, identified only as Nevayah, in an e-mailed statement. Her experience was featured in a New York Times story last year.

“Instead of criminalizing youth, ACS should be investing in high-quality services, professionals with proper training and resources, and engage young people in ways that actually address their challenges. We will closely monitor the impact of this decision,” said Karen Freedman, executive director of Lawyers for Children, which submitted an amicus brief in the case.

The criminalization of running away has been a subject of note in federal policy and law in recent years. Many states consider running away to be a “status offense,” a group of transgressions that would not be considered illegal were a youth of adult age. But federal juvenile justice standards prohibit the use of detention or lockup as a consequence for status offenses.

There is one exception to that rule though: a valid court order (VCO) exception, whereby a judge orders a youth not to run away, or be truant, and that child continues the behavior. According to recent federal data, New York reports not using the valid court order to lock up any status offenders.

The VCO exception was set to be phased out in legislation to reauthorize the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and is opposed by the group that helped write it into law – the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. But the final version of the reauthorization bill let the exception stand due to the objection of one member of Congress, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

Patch: Queens DA Election Guide: Meet The Democratic Primary Candidates

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By Maya Kaufman
May 7, 2019

Queens residents have an election coming up. This year they get to vote for a new district attorney, one of the most powerful positions in the criminal justice system.

So, what does a district attorney actually do, and who are the individuals vying for your vote?

Patch partnered with The Justice Collaborative, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization focused on criminal justice reform, to compile a series of election guides. These guides will be updated during the course of the election. The Basics

There are seven Democratic candidates and one Republican candidate running to become the next DA of Queens, though candidates can still file to run as independents until May 28.

The Democratic candidates are competing to win their party's primary election on June 25 and earn a spot on the ballot in the Nov. 5 general election. Voters must be registered with the Democratic party to vote in its primary election.

The Democratic candidates are, in alphabetical order: Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Greg Lasak, Betty Lugo, Mina Malik and Jose Nieves.

There is no Republican primary election on June 25 because the nomination is uncontested; attorney Daniel Kogan, who has a law office in Ozone Park, is the only candidate. That means he will be the Republican candidate in the Nov. 5 general election for Queens DA.

But one Democratic candidate, Betty Lugo, has said she is open to running as the GOP's candidate for DA in November; she was a registered Republican until switching her registration in November 2018, the Queens Daily Eagle reported.

The GOP could get Lugo on the ballot if the party nominates Kogan for a state Supreme Court judgeship, according to the Queens Daily Eagle, but Kogan could decline the nomination.

Learn more about when and where to vote on the NYC Board of Elections website.

The Candidates

Patch interviewed all seven Democratic candidates who are running to become the party's nominee in the election for the next district attorney of Queens County. The interviews were conducted in-person or over the phone over the course of several weeks. Patch developed the interview questions with guidance from The Justice Collaborative and asked candidates to provide yes/no answers to many of the questions.

  • Greg Lasak answered some questions in an interview but asked to answer the majority of them via email, saying the questions couldn't be answered in the way requested and that he wanted to provide more detail.

  • Tiffany Cabán is a public defender. She has a bachelor's degree in Crime, Law, and Justice from Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctorate from New York Law School. She has worked with the New York County Defender Services and the Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice. Read more.

  • Melinda Katz is the Queens Borough President. She graduated from University of Massachusetts and received a law degree from St. John's School of Law. She was a member of the NYS Assembly and the City Council, where she chaired the Land Use Committee.

  • Rory Lancman is a member of the City Council, where he chairs the Committee on the Justice System. He has degrees from Queens College and Columbia Law School. He previously served as a member of the NYS Assembly and an infantry officer in New York's 42nd Infantry Division. He also worked as an attorney in private practice.

  • Greg Lasak was a New York State Supreme Court judge but resigned last year to run for DA. He studied at Queens College and New York Law School. He previously worked in the Queens DA's office, where he led the homicide bureau. He was elected to the state Supreme Court, eventually becoming the deputy administrative judge.

  • Betty Lugo is a founding member of the law firm Pacheco & Lugo, PLLC. She studied at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and received a law degree from Albany Law School of Union University. She previously worked in the Nassau County DA's Office.

  • Mina Malik is a lecturer at Harvard Law School. She studied at Bates College and American University's Washington College of Law. She previously worked at the D.C. Public Defender Service. She has served as special counsel in the Brooklyn DA's office, as deputy attorney general for the District of Columbia and as a special victims prosecutor in Queens. She also led NYC's Civilian Complaint Review Board, the police oversight agency.

  • Jose Nieves is a former prosecutor in the NYS Attorney General's Office. He studied criminal justice at St. John's University and received his law degree from Brooklyn Law School. He previously worked in the Brooklyn DA's office and the NYC Department of Correction's Trials and Litigation Division. He served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, deployed to Afghanistan.

Read on to learn all you need to know about the candidates vying for your vote in the primary. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What's your elevator pitch to voters?

  • Tiffany Cabán: In terms of the field, I'm a vastly different candidate. I was born and raised in Queens. My parents grew up in the housing projects. When I talk about giving a public defender's approach to the DA's office, I also talk about my identity as a queer Latina. When we talk about all of these criminal justice reformers, I never thought I'd be running for DA. This is very much so about taking care of the communities that I come from — the ones that are disproportionately impacted by our criminal justice system, the ones that are starved of resources and really centering their voices and uplifting them. When we talk about these criminal justice reforms, they all sound nice, but if you're not doing them the right away they won't have impact. As a public defender, as somebody growing up the way I did, it's about keeping people rooted in their communities.
  • Melinda Katz: I've been fighting powerful interests my whole life. Twenty-five years ago I started knocking down the doors of the old boys' political club, and I won when people said I shouldn't run and I did. When I was a kid, my family faced an injustice: My mother was killed by a drunk driver. I think my whole life has been couched in my family feeling like nobody had our back. I got to the New York Assembly and passed landmark legislation that allowed women to collect gynecological services without getting permission from their family doctor or regular doctor. I had to stand up to HMOs [health maintenance organizations] to do that, and at the time it wasn't easy to stand up to HMOs. I stood up to developers to get safe work sites and fair wages for workers. As the Queens borough president, one of the main issues from the beginning had been protecting immigrants, making sure, especially with the Trump administration, that they had somewhere to come for fairness and equity and for information. We have an immigration task force that meets once a month. We collaborated with the Legal Aid Society to provide attorneys, so people would know their rights. We worked collaboratively with groups throughout the borough to seal convictions for folks who had made mistakes years ago and forgive warrants that were outstanding. We've been working closely throughout the borough with many groups to resolve inequities and injustice. As DA I want to continue that work but also make significant changes. From my history I think that's proven it can be accomplished.
  • Rory Lancman: I have the most criminal justice reform experience — as a council member, an assembly member and a practicing lawyer for 15 years — to be able to make the real reforms that are necessary to bring the DA's office in Queens into the 21st century. Everyone has figured out that this is the era to talk about a reformative criminal justice system. Amongst the candidates that are running, I'm the only one who has actually made reform-based criminal justice happen in almost every area of the criminal justice system. You want to make reform happen, you really need people who are experienced executing criminal justice reform policies.
  • Greg Lasak: I spent 25 years in the Queens DA's office, worked my way up the ranks, and by the time I was 30 years old I was made chief of the homicide bureau after I personally prosecuted about 20 defendants for murder. In the end of the 1990s, we separated the domestic violence cases from the special victims bureau and made a new bureau, because unfortunately there was a lot of those cases back then. I remained there until 2003, when I was elected to the [New York State] Supreme Court. My first assignment was the drug treatment court. Most of my career dealt with violent criminals and murder cases. That was a refreshing change, because here you had the opportunity to handle these cases one-by-one, and every success story was a win. During my last number of years in the DA's office, it came to my attention that there were a number of people who claimed they were innocent of crimes. I was able to reinvestigate cases which resulted in the exoneration of about 20 people wrongfully arrested, indicted and/or convicted of crimes they did not commit. I get more satisfaction out of exonerating those innocent people than I did of convicting guilty ones. For the rest of my time I was a judge. I was elected to a second term, then resigned in September 2018 to run for district attorney. When I resigned, I was the deputy administrative judge of the criminal term, which was the number-two judge in the county.
  • Betty Lugo: I'm experienced. I'm qualified. I've worked in 3 different DAs' offices. I've run my own business for the last 25 years, representing many people in Queens — nonprofit groups, churches, individuals, organizations — so I'm familiar with the people. I was raised in Bed-Stuy with all nationalities and groups, so I understand the diversity of Queens. I'm the best person to keep the people safe in Queens. I am firm about keeping the neighborhood safe. You enforce the law. I will enforce the law, firmly and fairly, with compassion and mercy where required, but at the end of the day it's about keeping our communities safe and making sure victims and defendants get treated equally regardless of where they come from.
  • Mina Malik: Three reasons why: Number one is my lived experience, number two is my professional qualifications and experience in criminal justice and criminal justice reform, and number three because I've already implemented criminal justice reforms and have been a change agent. I grew up in a basement apartment in Corona, Queens. My lived experience of being a woman, a person of color growing up in Queens, being an immigrant and raising two black sons in Queens, really informs my experience. I have spent over 20 years in the criminal justice space, both on the defense and prosecution sides. I started off at the D.C. Public Defenders' Service, helping defend people who couldn't afford to hire an attorney. I worked with them to make sure they had zealous representation. I became a district attorney where my specialty was protecting women, children and the elderly. My speciality was special victims, crimes against the elderly, sex crimes. I worked with [former Brooklyn DA] Ken Thompson and was an architect of the conviction review unit, which became a standard for the entire country. We were the first prosecutor's office in the country to decide not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. We got a lot of pushback for it. I've not only worked alongside police officers, I've also held them accountable. During my tenure at the CCRB [Civilian Complaint Review Board], there were three high-profile cases. While deputy attorney general [at the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia], I worked on anti-truancy initiatives to keep kids in school as opposed to being involved in the juvenile justice system. I helped develop a mental health court. We expanded restorative justice to 18-24 year olds charged with low-level nonviolent offenses. My practical experience, my lived experience, my professional experience and qualifications set me apart from the other candidates in this race.
  • Jose Nieves: I believe that I'm the most qualified candidate because I bring a unique life experience that motivates me to change the criminal justice system and a professional experience to make those changes happen. Unlike the other candidates, I gave a diverse background in criminal justice that includes representing the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District, the Brooklyn DA's office and the U.S. army as a military prosecutor. My life experience is unique because I come from a very disadvantaged community — East New York in Brooklyn — where I saw crime on the streets every day. I was subject to racial profiling as a young man. It troubled me so much that I wanted to make a change within the criminal justice system. I went to St. John's and noticed the prosecutors had more control. I met my wife and we joined the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. It was cutting edge on providing diversion programs for its defendants. That was a great experience in how the criminal justice system can change lives, really turning people around and giving them a second chance in life. Once I did 11 years at the DA's office, I went on to the NYC Department of Corrections to hold the system more accountable for abuse of authority and injustices in the system. That's where I prosecuted corrections officers for excessive force against individuals incarcerated on Rikers Island. I joined the NYS Attorney General's office where I investigated and prosecuted police officers for excessive force and the deaths of unarmed civilians.

If you had to choose one thing that differentiates you from other candidates based on views, what would that be?

Cabán: The fact that every single view and policy position I have taken has been something that I have done in collaboration with the folks that are directly impacted by that policy. I am different because I call for full decriminalization of sex work and harm reduction and safe consumption sites. That's because I sat down and listened to the communities and looked at the research. These are policies that save lives. Katz: I think the thing that distinguishes me is not only stances but the experience to actually effectuate change. When I've stood up in the last 25 years for issues, I'd like to say I always won, but my track record is what differentiates me. I have experience in the borough to effectuate the change that's needed in the DA's office from top to bottom. The thing that distinguishes me is the changes I've made over the last 25 years and the ability to effectuate change in an office that hasn't been changed in 28 years. Lancman: My clear commitment to criminal justice reform without triangulation. If you think cash bail is wrong, you need to be in favor of eliminating it entirely. If you think we shouldn't be prosecuting black and brown kids for low-level offenses, you have to have a long list of offenses you're not going to prosecute them for, not just the easy ones like marijuana or jumping a turnstile. You need to have someone who has been not just talking the talk but walking the walk for a long time, otherwise you really don't know what you're going to get with the next district attorney. Lasak: I've got a reputation over the last 39 years of being firm and fair. I've actually done the work. Most of my opponents in this race haven't stepped foot in a courtroom, and those that do don't have anywhere near the wealth experience. I left the DA's office as the number-three person. I left the NYS Supreme Court as the number-two judge in the county. Lugo: As it concerns Rikers Island, I believe that [the jail] should stay on the island and that they shouldn't bring it to Kew Gardens. I believe they should fix up the buildings on Rikers Island; I don't see any reason why they should bring it into the neighborhood. I'll have a felony screening unit to review charges, as well as a conviction integrity unit to ensure there's no wrongful convictions. If there are cases where it's questionable that the person was indicted or convicted, I'll have those cases reviewed, not only by inside people in the DA's office. I'll bring in outside people, including former judges of all backgrounds and attorneys of different nationalities, to give everyone a voice. Also a community relations unit and ADAs [assistant district attorneys] representative of the diverse communities in Queens that can speak to diverse communities, so when people look at the DA's office, they know it's the community's DA office. If you're convicted of a nonviolent crime, I believe in a second chance. I will set up additional programs and make sure funding is increased. I know how to raise money as the past president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the Hispanic Bar Association. The other two units I want are a domestic violence unit and elderly abuse prevention unit. The elderly are really a forgotten group. I don't see anyone doing anything to protect the elderly in Queens. Malik: My view on criminal justice reform, that we have to implement meaningful criminal justice reform without compromising public safety. I have already done that in three major agencies. Nieves: We have to look at the criminal justice system in a holistic way, not just the charges and facts of the case but also the circumstances of the defendant and what motivated the underlying criminal conduct. That could be drug addiction, mental health, a young person caught up in a difficult situation in a disadvantaged community. You have to look at the impact holding this person accountable would have on the community. Ninety percent of the time, they return home to where they came from before incarceration. You have to ask, what impact will I have on the community by putting this person in jail? In the situation of a new immigrant, how can we hold this person accountable without triggering automatic deportation? They will be ripped out of their community, their families will be left behind, any business they participate in will suffer a loss. That's a real impact. My philosophy is different from the other candidates because I look at a bigger picture — circumstances of the accused, plus facts and evidence of the case. One thing I'm proposing that the other candidates haven't even discussed is a post-sentencing unit. People returning to their communities need services, and the post-sentencing unit will identify those individuals six months before they're released into the community and the services they need. Once you allow these individuals an opportunity to rebuild their lives, then they can become productive members of society. What's one thing people don't know about you or that they would be surprised to know?

  • Cabán: That's an interesting question. Wow, that's hard. I've been putting a lot of my personal background on the table in terms of my personal traumas, so I think there are some folks that do know about those things, which make me a particularly good candidate for this role. I think what folks don't know about me is that I am committed to whatever it takes to keep our communities safe. At the end of the day, this is a public safety job. There will be situations where we have to remove somebody from that community and I am prepared to do that, but when we're talking about public safety that's usually for good reason and should be a last resort. But maybe something people don't know about me is I'm a rescue pup mom with two dogs, Natalie and Coltrane. I'm a little bit of a jazz fan.
  • Katz: I like country music. I like Garth Brooks, a lot of them. Most people know me pretty well.
  • Lancman: Voters might not know I was a lawyer for 15 years representing people who were sexually harassed or discriminated against in unsafe workplaces. That direct litigation experience representing people in a court of law who have been wronged might be something people don't know about me.
  • Lasak: I think people know everything about me. They'd be surprised to know that, as a judge, the toughest thing I had to do was sentence people. As a DA, you go to seek justice, you get a conviction, then you make a recommendation to a judge in terms of a sentence. The toughest thing to do is sentence a person. You're basically taking a large part of their life away from them, or even the remainder of their life. That's the toughest thing. I did not like doing that. I think people would be surprised.
  • Lugo: That I have my own law firm, because they call me a retired prosecutor. I'm not retired. I'm still working in my law firm, the first Hispanic-owned law firm founded in New York.
  • Malik: People would be surprised to know that I come from a family of servants. Both my mother-in-law and my mother are nurses and caregivers. My father was a union laborer and a blue collar worker with a sixth-grade education. My husband is an African American civil rights attorney. My two sons are also service-oriented. My older son is a West Point cadet who is training and learning how to become a second lieutenant to protect and serve our country. My younger son is a budding actor who is working on letting people know about the injustices of society by highlighting injustices — such as mass incarceration, sexism, discrimination because of gender and sexual orientation — through the arts and through theater.
  • Nieves: People would be surprised to know that, as a military officer, I was in charge of reconstructing the criminal justice system in Afghanistan's Laghman province. I was in charge of reconstructing their criminal justice system through the courts, advising their prosecutors and defense counsels, and supervising their detention facilities and their police officers. I learned that when society fails to have trust or loses trust in their criminal justice system, the value of life drops dramatically. When I came back to the US after one year of deployment, I saw the same lack of confidence was happening in our criminal justice system. People saw exonerations of so many people convicted of heinous crimes that they lost confidence in the criminal justice system. I sought to restore that trust and confidence.

What's one thing in your career you would do differently if you could go back?

  • Cabán: I love being a public defender. When I talk about being a queer Latina I also say, I'm a public defender. That's how I see myself. So, I can't imagine doing any other work in my career up to this point. If I could do anything differently in my career though I would've really prioritized self-care practices much more effectively and much sooner, because it's trauma work. You become really invested in the work that you're doing and the lives you're trying to advocate for. Sometimes it comes at the detriment of your own personal health and relationships. For me therapy is incredibly important. It's sustaining, it helps me keep doing what I'm doing — but it took a long time to get there.
  • Katz: Twenty-five years ago I had just became a legislator. I voted for the death penalty. Ten years later I was given a great opportunity to vote no in the City Council. If I had to say one thing that was my biggest mistake and was a bad choice, it would be that. But I'm thankful for the opportunity 10 years later, and it was 10 years too late, to make it very clear there should be no death penalty.
  • Lancman: That's a difficult question. Sometimes difficult questions can't be answered on the spot.
  • Lasak: I don't think I'd do anything differently.
  • Lugo: Nothing. Everything that I've done has been a wonderful journey. My mother came with a fourth-grade education and told us to lift up our community. Everything I've done in my life has been to better society and my community — all communities. I became the first Puerto Rican woman to graduate Albany Law School and the first Hispanic woman in the Nassau County DA's office. Everything I've done is for my people, to provide inspiration that women, hispanics and minorities can rise up just like everybody else to fight any obstacles they have.
  • Malik: Wow, that's a great question. [Laughs] Let me think about that. I think my heart is always in giving a voice to the voiceless. One thing that I've always wanted to do — but I didn't have the opportunity to do because of my life circumstances and because I returned to New York — was to become a D.C. public defender. I was offered the job after law school, but unfortunately I wasn't able to stay in Washington, D.C. My husband and I were starting a family, and he was here in NYC and I decided to come home to Queens.
  • Nieves: I think what I would've done differently as a young attorney is gotten more involved in the civil rights movements of the time. But I also had the experience in law school working for the civil rights bureau in the attorney general's office, where I investigated the NYPD's stop and frisk procedures. We learned people of color were being stopped at an 8:1 ratio. I would've maybe done more work in civil rights and followed through with that type of work. In hindsight, I feel my expertise and dedication to criminal justice really brought about change in people's lives, which is something that I'm very proud of.

If elected District Attorney...Would you join the statewide district attorney association? Why or why not?

  • Tiffany Cabán: No. It's a collective group that has perpetuated the oppression and marginalization of the same groups that we historically have. I would withdraw.
  • Melinda Katz: Yes, I would. I have very strong opinions and very effective ways of getting my points across. I think that anyone who feels they can't stand up to the DA's association when they're wrong shouldn't be the DA. To not be the only DA in the entire state to not join an association and not try to change it from within and feel like you can be an effective advocate at the table is a foreign concept to me.
  • Rory Lancman: No. [Follow up, via email] DAASNY has consistently killed criminal justice reform, which is something I saw firsthand while serving in the State Assembly.
  • Greg Lasak: I would join it, because I think there needs to be a range of opinions from the different counties in the state.
  • Betty Lugo: Yes, I would join. It's important to become involved whether you believe the principles or not. The only way you can make change is from within. You have to educate others on the different policies.
  • Mina Malik: Yes. In order to make meaningful criminal justice reform and changes, you have to have a seat at the table in the room where decisions made and policies are being decided. That's not to say that withdrawal would not be option, but I think starting out there have to be open lines of communication.
  • Jose Nieves: I would, because I feel that in order to affect change you have to change from within. If you have a voice at the table, you can voice that concern about the positions of the DASNY organization. I oppose their position on the creation of the prosecutorial misconduct position and their opposition to discovery reform. These are two acts that need to be supported. But if you're not in the room and bringing a voice challenging their positions you really fail to make a difference.

Would you have a conviction integrity unit to review decisions? If so, will the CIU remain separate from the office's appellate division?

  • Cabán: Yes, and one that is incredibly robust and goes beyond what some folks typically think of as a conviction integrity review unit.
  • Katz: Yes.
  • Lancman: Yes and yes.
  • Lasak: Yes. There is no conviction integrity unit in Queens. Back in the 90s, I was doing that work on my own before anyone ever thought of the term. Yes, I would form a conviction integrity unit and continue the work that I was doing. None of my opponents have ever done that work. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and I was able to do that. It would be a separate unit, but they would work jointly.
  • Lugo: Yes, but mine would be different from everybody else's. I would include former judges — people I've known for many years, people that know the law — and stakeholders in the community. It would be part of my own office.
  • Malik: I absolutely would start a conviction review unit, and I would base it on the model that we used in Brooklyn. It would be a standalone bureau and it would report directly to the district attorney.
  • Nieves: Absolutely, and yes.

Would you track racial information at all steps of the prosecution process, and publicly report any significant racial disparities arising at any stage of the process?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes. We're going to issue a justice report every year that not only tracks that information but also tracks plea bargains, how many people were diverted into separate programs, things like that. Like a state of the union — a state of the DA's office.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak: If I saw if there was any racial disparity.
  • Lugo: It's important to track because it shows where the problems are. If you prosecute a group more than the others, you see where the needs are. If you're going to track, it should not only be by ethnicity but also country of origin. Maybe a group from a certain country doesn't understand the law, it's not a law in their country, and we need to address that. We need to track ethnicity, language, heritage and gender.
  • Malik: I would absolutely track any racial disparities. I would make as much data publicly available as possible. In terms of data collection, there has to be data analysis and evaluation so if there's any issues that need to be addressed we can address them through training and policy decisions.
  • Nieves: Yes, I would.

Would you build a staff that reflects the diversity of the community the office serves?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yeah, the staff has to be diversified. I've done that in the BP's office and nobody asked me to do that. I did it because it was the right thing to do. I'd like to hire from the community as much as I can. It's important to have ADAs that have the faith of the community they're serving.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak: Absolutely. From day one, when I started running, that was my first plank on my platform.
  • Lugo: Absolutely.
  • Malik: One of my platforms is creating diversity and inclusion as well as transparency and accountability. I firmly believe that the DA's office not only serves the county but also has to be reflective of the county that it serves. Diversity is being asked to the ball, inclusion is being actually asked to the dance.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Would you release dash-cam recordings and audio or video surveillance related to police-involved shootings within 30 days of any incident?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: It depends on the investigation and its status. Anywhere we can release it without hurting an investigation, then sure.
  • Lancman: As long as it doesn't compromise an ongoing investigation, yes.
  • Lasak: On a case-by-case basis. As far as any time limit, I don't know about that. If I feel the public should see or hear these recordings, I'll make that determination. I have no problem with that. You can taint a jury pool by putting a lot of evidence out before a case is tried.
  • Lugo: I support open discovery and, yes, as soon as I can exchange that information I will.
  • Malik: Yes, assuming that I can do so under the law.
  • Nieves: I don't believe the DA's office has the ability to release that information, but I would encourage the NYPD to release that information immediately and I would advocate for the release of that information.

Would you support pre-plea diversion programs that allow individuals to obtain dismissals of their charges without entering a guilty plea?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes. I believe wholeheartedly in diversion programs. We need to strengthen the organizations that do the diversion programs.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: I helped to launch diversion programs in Queens in the early 1990s because I believe in second chances. So, of course I do.
  • Lugo: Yes.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Queens's "No Plea Policy" mandates that defendants who wish to negotiate a plea on a felony must do so prior to a grand jury indictment. If a defendant refuses to plead at this stage, they forego the opportunity to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors. Are you for or against this policy?

  • Cabán: Against.
  • Katz: Against.
  • Lancman: Against the policy.
  • Lasak [via email]: My policy will be: Indicted or not, I'll exercise discretion in plea negotiations at any stage of the criminal proceeding. I believe the waiver policy does have benefits for both sides in that it allows time to investigate and negotiate a proper plea, which, in the end, is in the interests of all.
  • Lugo: I'm neither for or against. It depends on the charge.
  • Malik: Against the policy.
  • Nieves: Against.

Would you prohibit staff from relying on discredited scientific techniques?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: If they're discredited, then yes. I don't think any DA would rely on that.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak: Yes.
  • Lugo: Yes. I'm in favor of the state bar association's opinion on using the Daubert test.
  • Malik: Assuming that the scientific procedure is discredited by an entity that is highly respected and regarded, absolutely.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Would you recommend release for all defendants unless there is a clearly articulated substantial risk of harm to the community or high likelihood of flight?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: You need to strengthen the diversion programs before you figure out how and when you release people before trial. I believe in no cash bail for any crime. You need to figure out how to keep track of individuals you want to get into diversion programs.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: In New York, there is no dangerousness standard when negotiating bail so I would be barred by law from using such a standard. As I've always said, if I'm not going to ask for jail at the end of the case, I won't ask for bail at the beginning. No jail, no bail. Period.
  • Lugo: It depends on the circumstances. If it's a violent offense, I have to be cautious to make sure the defendant doesn't go after the victim.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Would you publicly support the expansion of pretrial supervised release programs in lieu of money bail?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes.
  • Lugo: Yes.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Would you advocate that all bail determinations require individualized, adversarial hearings, at which the defendant is represented by counsel?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes. Especially if you're doing no cash bail, you need to figure out how they'll return to trial.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes.
  • Lugo: I would take it on a case by case basis. We have a lot of communities in Queens that don't have counsel. Even if they have counsel, it doesn't mean they know what their rights are. I will make a point to have everything translated in all the primary languages in Queens.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Do you support eliminating fees, court costs, and fines associated with pretrial diversion programs? Do you support a fee waiver program?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: As a goal, of course I do. And I'll advocate for it. But that's in the purview of the Office of Court Administration, not the District Attorney.
  • Lugo: Yes. We'll just have to find a way to fund those programs.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Do you support expanding existing deferred prosecution programs for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, even if someone has a criminal record?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes, on a case-by-case basis. The go-to would be yes, but it would have to be case-by-case.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: On a case-by-case basis, yes.
  • Lugo: Yes.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Do you support expanding deferred prosecution programs to some violent felonies, if the person does not pose a risk to public safety?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Case-by-case.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: I'd have to look at this on a case-by-case basis. The reality is that if someone has committed a violent felony, it may be difficult to say they won't pose a public safety risk, but I'll certainly look at each case.
  • Lugo: Yes.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Would you prosecute sit-sleep-lie laws, including in New York City parks?

  • Cabán: No.
  • Katz: I can't imagine I would, no. I would want to use the ability to get them help.
  • Lancman: No.
  • Lasak [via email]: I'd take these on a case-by-case basis, and I'd divert many of these cases to treatment courts and programs.
  • Lugo: No, I would try to get them the proper housing.
  • Malik: No.
  • Nieves: Decline to prosecute.

Would you prosecute turnstile-jumping?

  • Cabán: No.
  • Katz: That doesn't come to me.
  • Lancman: No.
  • Lasak [via email]: I'd take these on a case-by-case basis, and I'd divert many of these cases to treatment courts and programs.
  • Lugo: If it's a first time offense, no. If they have two or three times where they're caught, I would prosecute it.
  • Malik: No.
  • Nieves: No.

Would you prosecute petty theft?

  • Cabán: Decline to prosecute. One thing about petty theft I want to bring up is you have to provide stabilizing services at the same time. At the other side of these thefts could be a small business owner who can't absorb these losses, and that's destabilizing.
  • Katz: Case-by-case basis. Probably no.
  • Lancman: Yes, it depends on the circumstances.
  • Lasak [via email]: I'd take these on a case-by-case basis, and I'd divert many of these cases to treatment courts and programs.
  • Lugo: I would start a mediation program for petty theft. There's always a victim. I would get the person to pay back the restitution and, if not, they have to do community service. I would take it on a case-by-case basis.
  • Malik: It depends on the circumstances. Just to have a blanket policy, you really need to be careful about that, because you might be hurting the mom-and-pop shops.
  • Nieves: No, decline to prosecute. Especially when it's in circumstances with individuals stealing food and other living necessities.

Would you prosecute prostitution-related charges?

  • Cabán: No.
  • Katz: Sex workers would not be prosecuted. I would use my resources to go after sex traffickers and those that may be forcing people into sex work.
  • Lancman: That includes individuals and someone being charged with trafficking. We're not going to prosecute individuals for prostitution. We're going to focus very heavily on traffickers.
  • Lasak [via email]: I will divert these cases with an understanding that most individuals who put themselves into these situations are vulnerable. A good DA focuses not only on prosecution, but also seeks to help vulnerable individuals get back on track. True crime prevention is helping those caught in these situations to get themselves out. And that's what I will always do.
  • Lugo: Right now, that's what the law is, so yes I would. Again, I'd provide second chances.
  • Malik: No. Are you talking about sex trafficking, or a woman who's a sex worker? I think it's important to prosecute those who take advantage of and prey on vulnerable people, so in the case of sex trafficking, where you're forcing someone into a life of sex work and taking the proceeds and using force or threats, that's something that needs to be prosecuted. No, I would not prosecute a person engaging in sex work.
  • Nieves: No.

Would you prosecute defendants for simple possession of marijuana, regardless of their criminal history? What about other drugs?

  • Cabán: No and no.
  • Katz: Not for possession.
  • Lancman: No. We're not going to charge people for possession for personal use. We're not going to bring those cases against people with drugs for personal use.
  • Lasak [via email]: I've always said that I'd shy away from prosecuting low-level cases involving small amounts of marijuana. I won't make a blanket policy for other drugs though. Instead, I'll look to divert many possession cases to treatment courts and programs.
  • Lugo: Depends on the amount and the reason. I would consider every factor and give them a second chance. Drugs are illegal. Opioids are illegal. I will take it on a case-by-case basis.
  • Malik: No. For other drugs, I think it depends on the quantity. If the quantity's large enough that it's possession with the intent to distribute, I think that's an issue. If you're talking about a situation where there are trace amounts of an illegal substance, no, I don't think that's a good use of resources.
  • Nieves: No. I would create a program where we do not prosecute them, where we offer them drug treatment programs at the time of arrest.

Would you prosecute drug overdoses as homicide cases?

  • Cabán: No. In those homicide cases, you expend a lot of resources and they're almost impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt — even if you do take the position that you want to prosecute as a homicide.
  • Katz: It would have to be case-by-case. You would have to look at if it's been cut by fentanyl.
  • Lancman: No.
  • Lasak [via email]: I would investigate those and charge accordingly.
  • Lugo: If there was a doctor or someone else involved in providing the drugs to the person, like in the example of Michael Jackson, where there was a doctor facilitating the prescriptions, I will definitely prosecute.
  • Malik: No.
  • Nieves: No.

Would you support a Good Samaritan policy stating that individuals who call the police in response to an overdose will not be prosecuted?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes.
  • Lugo: It depends, because that could be the very person that facilitated the drugs.
  • Malik: Yes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Are you in support of drivers' license suspensions for non-payment of fines or fees?

  • Cabán: I am against it. It's like double-penalizing the poor. I've represented plenty of clients on those kinds of cases.
  • Katz: I'm going to say the answer's no. Nobody's ever asked me.
  • Lancman: No.
  • Lasak [via email]: No.
  • Lugo: I'll follow whatever the law says.
  • Malik: No.
  • Nieves: No.

Do you support limits to law enforcement's cooperation with ICE and efforts to enlist local law enforcement as federal immigration agents?

  • Cabán: Yes.
  • Katz: Yes. The court system has said it's not something that ICE can do. ICE should not be in courts, outside our courts, going to see anybody in our schools.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Their presence in courthouses intimidates witnesses, victims, defendants and others. They shouldn't be allowed in our courthouses.
  • Lugo: Yes. ICE is necessary, but it has to be restricted and protections have to be put into place to make sure people are not unnecessarily victimized and picked up when they haven't done anything wrong.
  • Malik: I would not cooperate with ICE. In and around the courthouse should be an ICE-free zone. It should be a safe haven not only for victims and witnesses but also people accused of crimes.
  • Nieves: Yes.
  • Do you support prosecutors considering immigration consequences in the charging, plea, and sentencing decisions?

  • Cabán: Yes.

  • Katz: Yes, though it's a different issue with sentencing. As important are NYCHA consequences.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes.
  • Lugo: Yes, absolutely. I will ensure the allocution is appropriate and the individual knows they can be deported.
  • Malik: Absolutely. I plan on having an immigration hardship plea policy and immigration affairs bureau staffed with immigration law experts, so that we can look into the collateral consequences of someone who is pleading guilty to certain crimes.
  • Nieves: Yes.

Do you support post-conviction litigation from non-citizens who pled guilty without being advised of the potential immigration consequences of their plea?

  • Cabán: Yes, I support those appeals.
  • Katz: Starting Jan. 1, all immigrants who plea bargained would have to sign something with counsel to show they understand all the consequences.
  • Lancman: Yes.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes.
  • Lugo: Yes, I do. I believe in reviewing a conviction no matter what their legal status is.
  • Malik: Yes, I think that immigrants should be afforded due process.
  • Nieves: Yes.
  • Do you support or oppose sentence of life without parole for any person under the age of 18?

  • Cabán: Oppose.

  • Katz: I don't see a situation where I would ask for life without parole for someone under 18.
  • Lancman: Oppose.
  • Lasak [via email]: Each case must be looked at an individual basis and the proper sentence can be determined.
  • Lugo: I have to enforce the law as it stands, and it depends on the crime and the factors. It would depend on the charge.
  • Malik: Oppose. The research has shown young people and adolescent's brains are not fully formed until the age of 25. They do not understand the full nature of their actions or the consequences and ramifications, and they're more prone to taking risks.
  • Nieves: Oppose.

Do you support or oppose a raise the age law to reduce the number of children who can be prosecuted as adults, including children charged with serious offenses?

  • Cabán: Support.
  • Katz: Support.
  • Lancman: Support.
  • Lasak [via email]: Yes [support].
  • Lugo: It depends on the charge and the circumstances. Generally, it makes sense. Young people under a certain age are still children. But we still have children committing bad crimes.
  • Malik: Support. I support treating children like children and not having them be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. We should not prosecute them in the adult system, because it does nothing but make them better criminals.
  • Nieves: Support.

NY Daily News: Alarming allegations about parolees’ rights: The state must investigate whether men are having due-process violated on Rikers Island

The Rikers Island jail complex. (Seth Wenig / AP)

The Rikers Island jail complex. (Seth Wenig / AP)

By Vincent Schiraldi
May 07, 2019

Due process and judicial independence are among our bedrock legal principles established in the U.S. Constitution, case law and state law, so my colleagues and I are alarmed by news reports from Gothamist and NY1 News last week alleging Rikers Island Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Rhonda Tomlinson’s complete disregard for them.

Both stories allege Tomlinson is pressuring ALJs to rubber-stamp parole revocations and re-incarcerate men and women on technical violations like missing appointments, staying out after curfew or using drugs.

These allegations could constitute a potential due process violation of persons accused of parole violations, even if they do not enjoy the same due process protections as those not on parole. They also could violate New York State laws that establish judicial independence for administrative law judges in their decision-making process.

The Legal Aid Society and each of the county legal aid offices; Dr. Vanda Seward, the former director of reentry services for the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), and I have written to NYS Attorney General Letitia James and Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro to request they open investigations into these practices.

We wrote James and Tagliaferro that “the integrity and fairness of the parole adjudication system is called into question as due process requires a fair, detached, and independent arbiter with the accused present at all stages of the adjudication.”

The allegations include that there is now a double standard in the adjudication process that improperly and, likely illegally, favors incarceration. ALJs are permitted to re-incarcerate people whose cases they are adjudicating with no scrutiny by or explanations to the supervising ALJs of their decisions.

However, if those same administrative law judges decide to return people found in violation of parole to the community, they must justify those decisions to their supervisor. Apparently, it is only liberty that requires an explanation.

These new reports also allege that ALJs are required to ask permission in a private consultation with their supervisor — off the record and away from the presence of the accused and parties — before releasing a person on parole.

It may be improper for one judicial officer to substitute their judgement for those ALJ’s who are assigned to a case and required to consider all of the facts and circumstances, including the exculpatory and mitigating evidence presented by the accused. If true, this extra-judicial supervisory role in the parole violation hearing process conflicts with bedrock principles of judicial independence and may have a chilling effect on fair and impartial judicial decision-making.

Finally, while the behavior described in these news stories would be alarming under any circumstances, it is especially concerning in cases in which the only accusation against the individual is a non-criminal, technical violation of parole rules.

According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, New York State returned the second highest number of people to prison for technical violations in the country in 2016. New York City data reveals that the number of people held for technical violations in Rikers Island has increased 30% over the last five years. One out of 12 people now held in the jail complex on Rikers Island is accused only of a technical violation, not a new crime.

Given that both the prosecuting agency and the Parole Board-appointed ALJs are employed by the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, it is paramount to the administration of justice that hearing officers are seen as independent and fair. This is the law in New York State.

Given the high number of people incarcerated in city and state correctional facilities for technical violations, the level of judicial interference described in these articles is especially concerning and warrants independent scrutiny by New York State chief legal and investigative officers.