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Saratoga County State, Local Republican Officials Discuss Opposition To Upcoming Bail Reforms

Saratoga County D.A. Karen Heggen, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and State Senator Jim Tedisco.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Saratoga County D.A. Karen Heggen, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and State Senator Jim Tedisco.

New criminal justice laws will be on the books in New York next year. But several Saratoga County state and local Republican officials are pushing for a delay.

State Senator Jim Tedisco, Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and Saratoga County D.A. Karen Heggen gathered at Tedisco's Clifton Park office Tuesday to call for New York state to "hit the pause button" on the new bail reform and discovery law. Sheriff Zurlo says his staff is already taxed.    "There's over 200 criminal charges now that there will be no cash bail. Currently I have close to 300 warrants looking for people. I anticipate that to probably double or triple. Right now our row patrol is maxed. I have them out looking for these 300 now. I just can't imagine once this starts after the first of the year with the staff I have... a lot of these people are going to be out there, we're not going to be able to locate them. I always come up with this scenario where somebody's got, we'll see a couple hundred packets of cocaine on them, and he stopped ,and he's charged and he's released back out, and he's potentially facing 15 to 20 years. You think that person is going to come back?"

D.A. Heggen says the rapid and significant changes in the law will affect everyone in the community.  "Each and every case in the criminal justice system has a unique set of facts. There's nothing cookie-cutter about the cases that we deal about, and because we deal with unique sets of circumstances and facts, we should give the ability to the judges when it comes to release on bail or recognizance. We should give the judges discretion in order to take into account those unique circumstances in deciding whether or not someone should be released or not back into the community pending the disposition of their cases and that is gone with this legislation. It's totally gone."

Tedisco says lawmakers want to delay implementation of bail reform and discovery until statewide hearings can be held.   "We'd love to repeal this whole thing and start all over again and really have hearings and listen and have everybody involved and the media really get in there and expose what the concerns are, the unintended consequences. And that's why we have a bill for repeal and now one that might have a little bit better chance, and that is a moratorium to really think reflectively on this whole thing."

Not everyone agrees. Marie Ndiaye is supervising attorney at the Decarceration project at the Legal Aid Society.   "I would say that there has been a moratorium on bail and discovery reform for decades in New York state. That's decades of you know, having laws in place that really disenfranchised and devastated the lives of you know, many poor, especially black and brown people of New York state. These laws that were passed have been vetted. They were fought out, there have been hearings, there were debates. There were backroom conversations, they are, you know, sound. Right now what everyone needs to do is get on the same page and talk about how we're going to work to make sure that these laws actually end up working and not trying to subvert them or trying to stop them before they even go into effect."

Tedisco notes a special legislative session may already be in the cards: he expects lawmakers will be called back before the end of the year to deal with fusion voting.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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