Dutchess County District Attorney Candidates Discuss Bail Reform, Oversight
A political newcomer is taking on a longtime incumbent district attorney in Dutchess County. The two candidates answered questions during a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night at the FDR site in Hyde Park.
Republican Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady has been in his post for 36 years and is asking voters to keep him there another four. Democrat Richard Berube, once a county senior assistant district attorney employed by Grady, and now in the private sector, says his experience has groomed him well for the position.
“So what it really came down to was, do you have the ability to do this? And the answer is yes," Berube says. “So therefore I have the responsibility to this, and that’s really why I’m doing it.”
As for Grady…
“I enjoy the challenge of the job,” Grady says. “I feel I and my staff have done an outstanding job in terms of addressing all the criminal justice issues that have confronted our community for the past several years from violent crime to domestic violence to child sex abuse and now the most recent issue being the unrealistic bail laws that are going to come into effect after January 1st.”
He explains one of his concerns.
“One concern of mine is the drug dependent offender who, today, because they can’t meet bail for good reason, are in jail but they are being treated by an in-house drug dependency program that I helped create. It has had fantastic results, the net result being that public safety is addressed and the dependency issue is addressed so when the offender is released after 60 days, not six months, he’s on the road to recovery and the community’s safe,” says Grady. “Under the new bail law, unfortunately, all these very same offenders will be out, unsupervised and unmonitored, because at the very time of arrest, the officer must very give them simply an appearance ticket with no supervision or control. So that creates a major problem for the criminal justice system.”
Grady says he is preparing for the reform, and developing a pre-arraignment diversion program. Berube views bail reform differently, calling it positive, overall.
“I think that, I think someone’s who’s sitting in jail with a constitutional presumption of innocence attached to them but is yet to be convicted and cannot get out of jail because they are in poverty or don’t have the funds to do so is, it’s egregious to the Constitution,” Berube says. “So I do agree with the bail reform, and it’s coming, and I think that it’s time we just implement it.”
Asked during the forum about the biggest challenge facing the DA’s office in Dutchess, Berube cited the opioid crisis.
“I think what’s needed is diversion immediately. Currently, like I said, there’s no district attorney at an arraignment, so when somebody who comes in who’s addicted to opioids, they get locked up instead of being offered right at that moment diversion to rehab,” Berube says. “I think at that very moment when the iron’s hot and the offer of treatment is made, I think that people will avail themselves of it.”
Grady agrees the opioid crisis is a big problem, and notes the county has an opioid task force.
“The biggest challenges for us on the criminal justice side is to address the drug dependency of the offender, who will now be not monitored and not supervised,” says Grady. “And that creates a major problem not only on the public safety side but also on the public health side because overdoses lead to deaths. We know that.”
The two disagree on a Commission of Prosecutorial Conduct. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the enabling measure earlier this year, though the District Attorneys Association of New York sued. Grady says he has no problem with the concept, but questions other aspects.
“Anytime you create a commission to review the conduct of public servant employees, you have to be extremely concerned about the makeup of the commission,” says Grady. “When you’re dealing with prosecution, you’re dealing with qualities like ethics and responsible conduct and doing the right thing. And so, therefore, prosecutors when they achieve this result, to have politicians who have nothing to gain other than a political agenda reviewing the conduct of individuals who act ethically and responsibly, it creates a real problem.”
Berube welcomes such a commission.
“The district attorney’s position is the most powerful, the least accountable and the least transparent player in the criminal justice system. So I think that that deserves to have oversight by an agency that really represents the people of the state of New York,” Berube says. “One person having all that power and not being looked at or watched or there can be cases like, that end up being done incorrectly. And I think that there’s a duty for this commission to oversee district attorneys to make sure they’re not abusing any power.”
Dutchess County recently approved term limits for elected officials, but they do not apply to the district attorney. Berube says he believes term limits should apply to the DA, and says, if elected, he would serve no more than 12 years. The two candidates each for county clerk and county executive, which include the Republican incumbents, also answered questions at the forum.