The push-pull of bail reform in Albany
Bail et al., again
With criminal justice legislation once again taking up oxygen in the final week of Albany budget deliberations, The Point called up some legal defenders and advocates to get a sense of one side of the debate: those who want to protect at all costs the bail and discovery and wider justice system changes of the last few years.
Part of the negotiation turns on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 10-point public safety plan that leaked last week. Two provisions would increase funding for mental health treatment as well as pretrial, diversion, and other social programs. That sounded generally fine to representatives of The Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
But beyond that: “All of it is a no-go,” said Jullian Harris-Calvin of the Vera Institute.
The proposals would “radically change” the previous overhauls, said Jared Trujillo, policy counsel at NYCLU.
And Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney at the Decarceration Project of The Legal Aid Society, says the “majority” of the plan is a “nonstarter.”
The three lawyers pointed to different problems with all of the eight nonfunding planks, arguing that some of the gun offenses that Hochul wants to be bail-eligible are not particularly common, or that there could be better ways to address some of the larger issues. Rather than relax the new standards that prosecutors must meet for turning over documents, for example, there could be a statewide investment in technology to smooth that “discovery” process, said Ndiaye.
But some of the most heated opposition centered on Hochul’s first two planks, which seem tailored to recent headline-grabbing crimes. The changes would in part allow judges to take things like criminal history and firearms possession into account in their bail determinations for certain serious offenses and make repeat offenses within a certain time period bail-eligible.
The first, argued Harris-Calvin, should be considered “sneaking in a dangerousness standard,” a hot-button issue that was part of the original bail debates in 2019 but rejected for fears that new standards might end up being unduly harsh for Black or brown defendants.
The second proposal would also be a “dramatic shift,” Harris-Calvin said, given the wide range of even minor offenses to which it would apply.
Expect both of those to be subjects of some of the fiercest opposition in Albany in the coming days, perhaps even to the point of delaying adoption of the budget by April 1.
In brief public safety-related remarks to reporters on Friday, Hochul declined to bite when asked whether the repeat-offenses plank or any of the nine others should be considered particularly final or crucial or simply negotiating start-points. She also didn’t rank the planks in order of likelihood that they’d move forward.
“We’re still very much at the table,” she said, calling the criticism she’s getting on this issue from the right and from the left “the sign that you’re in the right place.”
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
DC smear of nonprofit headed by Simons’ son reemerges
For decades Renaissance Technologies, the tremendously successful East Setauket-based quantitative investment firm, was headed by legendary mathematical wizards who pulled in very different directions when it came to politics.
James Simons has been a huge low-key funder of the Democratic Party and his once-close colleague Robert Mercer a top funder of the GOP. Both are retired from the business, but their diverging political orientations extend to the next generation.
Much has been reported on Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Robert Mercer, and her investment and involvement in internet platforms geared toward far-right messaging such as Parler.
On the other side of the divide is Nat Simons, the 56-year-old son of James Simons, and the co-founder and a director of the Sea Change Foundation, which focuses on climate change and clean energy policy, along with his wife Laura Baxter-Simons.
Political activists with ties to the Republican establishment have in the past peddled vague or debunked canards that the foundation aims to serve Russian oil interests by suppressing U.S. fracking for fuel.
None of this had risen above innuendo from right-wing groups.
But now that Vladimir Putin’s Russia has invaded Ukraine without provocation, and targeted its civilians, Republican leaders are trying to obscure ex-President Donald Trump’s demonstrated affection for Putin.
So resurrecting the Simons smear is useful in this new context.
On March 10, according to The Washington Post, Republican members of the House Energy Committee wrote to several environmental groups: “It has been alleged that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is using a San Francisco-based e-NGO, the Sea Change Foundation (Sea Change), to funnel money into U.S.-based environmental advocacy efforts designed to undermine American energy production. … Notably, reports suggest that your organization is one of the top e-NGO recipients of Sea Change grants since 2006.”
Fox News soon carried a headline: “House Republicans demand answers from environmental groups over allegation of collusion with Russia.” Feeding the GOP letter was a claim that an entity called Klein Ltd., once a donor to Sea Change, was somehow linked to Russia, although it’s been clear for some time without contrary evidence that the foundation is all but completely backed by Simons family money.
When The Point asked the foundation for a response, it replied, in part, in a statement: “We are disappointed to see false allegations of foreign influence through Sea Change Foundation resurface after this untrue assertion was fully refuted in a statement released in 2018.
“To state clearly, neither Klein nor Sea Change Foundation has or had any connection to Russia or Russian funds.”
— Dan Janison @Danjanison
GOP judges Jackson
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In the news
Welcome to this week’s news quiz, based on events that took place this week. As usual, provide the answer for each clue, one letter per blank. The first letter of each answer, taken in order, spells the name of the New York politician who said this when asked about the possibility of negotiating changes to bail reform legislation during the ongoing state budget negotiations: “I just don’t know if that can be figured out in two days.”
A link to the answers appears below.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ A car plowed into a group of revelers in Belgium, killing six people celebrating this holiday.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ State that became the first to let people store their official driver’s license or ID on their iPhone.
_ _ _ _ _ _ President Joe Biden said he supports expelling this country from the Group of 20 as punishment for its bad behavior.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Hurricane-ravaged state that this week was ravaged by tornadoes.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Nonprofit recipient of a $436 million gift from MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
_ _ _ _ _ Number of nonwhite male Supreme Court justices in the nation’s history, if Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Dennis Sullivan of Stony Brook University was named co-winner of this award, the equivalent of a Nobel in mathematics.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ An East End transportation company is proposing a seasonal ferry service between this community and Greenport.
_ _ _ _ _ Automaker that opened a Gigafactory outside Berlin, the company’s first facility in Europe.
_ _ _ _ _ This state’s governor signed a bill, based on a Texas law, that bans abortion after six weeks and allows citizens to sue providers of abortions beyond that window.
_ _ _ _ _ Controversial Calverton property that Riverhead officials voted to transfer to the town’s Industrial Development Agency.
Click here for the answers to the clued words and to the identity of the mystery politician.
— Michael Dobie @mwdobie