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Judges rely on ‘cheat sheet’ to apply NY’s bail reform law

New York’s controversial bail reform law is so arcane that state judges recently underwent a two-part training program on it — and also received an eight-page “cheat sheet” to use in court, The Post has learned.

The sessions – which lasted a total of nearly four hours — were part of mandatory, three-day seminars for all 1,300 judges that took place in June and July at the state Judicial Institute on the campus of Pace University in White Plains, sources said.

They were sparked by recent tweaks to the controversial, 2019 law that Gov. Kathy Hochul claims gave judges “broad discretion” to set bail for potentially dangerous defendants, but which Mayor Eric Adams and others have criticized as falling far short of what’s actually needed.

One discussion featured remarks from acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser, author of the official “Bail Bench Book” that’s distributed to judges by the state Office of Court Administration, according to a schedule of events.

The reference manual’s section on bail reform is a whopping 49 pages due to the mumbo-jumbo that comprises the thrice-amended law, a source familiar with the book said Friday.

The training included a "cheat sheet" on bail reform.
State judges recently underwent a two-part training program on New York’s bail reform law.
William Farrington for NY Post

“It tells you that, at best, [bail reform was] not very well thought through, and at worst, it’s purposefully meant to be a pretzel instead of being very clear and straightforward,” the source said.

The OCA also gave judges a memo — obtained by The Post — that boils down the law into seven pages of charts listing the various offenses still eligible for cash bail, which was eliminated for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

Due to various loopholes and other complexities, the charts are supplemented with 25 footnotes that say when defendants should be released despite being charged with “qualifying offenses.”

Unlike in every other state and the federal court system — where judges can consider the risk posed by putting defendants back on the streets — New York only allows bail to be used as a way to ensure they return to court.

Amid surging crime in the Big Apple, Adams has been pressing Albany lawmakers for months to add a “dangerousness” standard that would bring New York in line with the rest of the nation.

Hochul has countered that Adams’ concerns were addressed by revisions to the bail reform law enacted in April as part of the state’s fiscal 2023 budget package and that judges should be “using the broad discretion they have” as a result.

Those changes require judges to consider whether defendants have used or possessed guns, violated orders of protection or face charges that involve causing “serious” harm to victims.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser wrote the official "Bail Bench Book."
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser’s “Bail Bench Book is 49 pages long.
Steven Hirsch for NY Post

They also made repeated arrests for the same felonies or serious misdemeanors and more gun crimes eligible for bail.

Albany District Attorney David Soares, who took part in a panel discussion on bail reform at the recent judicial seminars, accused Hochul of trying to mislead the public about the impact of those amendments.

“This idea that judges have discretion and are exercising discretion is a categorical lie,” he told The Post.


CATCH, RELEASE, REPEAT

From serial shoplifters to repeat car thieves, here is just a sampling of the alleged career crooks in the Big Apple who have benefited the most from the state’s controversial and convoluted bail-reform law:

  • MICHELLE McKELLEY Allegedly confessed in February to being a “professional booster” following her 97th arrest, which involved thefts from an Upper East Side Target store that weren’t eligible for bail. Finally locked up after Bust No. 101 in July, when she was accused of attacking two cops during another alleged shoplifting incident in Harlem.
  • KEITH KOLM Career crook with 63 arrests, 39 since bail reform took effect. Charged in a string of auto thefts in Brooklyn and Queens, including an NYPD detective’s personal car that was stolen from in front of a Brooklyn police station and sold for scrap.
  • HAROLD GOODING Recently dubbed “Recidivist No. 1” by the NYPD for also racking up 101 arrests, including 88 since bail reform went into effect in 2020. The ex-con is accused of repeatedly stealing housewares from the Target store in Tribeca while wearing a distinctive white bucket hat.
  • CHARLES WOLD Four-time ex-con told The Post that he was “grateful” for bail reform in January following his arrest in a three-month string of 10 commercial burglaries in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I’m too old to go to jail. I’m way too old. I can’t do it,” he said.
  • ISAAC RODRIGUEZ Nicknamed the “Man of Steal” by The Post for allegedly committing 47 retail thefts last year, leading then-NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to tweet: “Insanity. No other way to describe the resulting crime that has flowed from disastrous bail-reform law.” Four-time ex-con told The Post that he was “grateful” for bail reform in January following his arrest in a three-month string of 10 commercial burglaries in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I’m too old to go to jail. I’m way too old. I can’t do it,” he said.
Michelle McKelley
Michelle McKelley

Harold Gooding
Harold Gooding

Isaac Rodriguez,
Isaac Rodriguez

Charles Wold
Charles Wold


Soares said the bail reform law essentially puts judges in a “straitjacket” by requiring them to release defendants under the “least restrictive conditions” possible.

“We have dangerous, more dangerous people out in the community,” he said.

“We have the most, the most massive proliferation of weapons in the street, and prosecutors, police and judges do not have the resources, the tools and the laws to overcome the situation that we’re in right now.”

A judge who spoke on condition of anonymity said that “by and large” the bail-reform law was “insane.”

“Our hands are tied,” the judge said.

“And judicial discretion will ensure there’s a true evaluation that the person is a risk of flight and perhaps an assessment of the risk they pose to the community.”

Gov. Hochul has refused to call a special session on bail reform until at least November.
New York’s bail reform laws have been widely criticized as ineffective.
Getty Images

The judge further accused Hochul — who last month said judges should “review the bail laws that were enacted in the budget” — and her Democratic allies in the Legislature of “continuing to use the judiciary as a scapegoat for their inaction.”

“The state Legislature needs to get their act together and call a special session” just to address bail reform, the judge added.

Hochul — who is seeking a full term in November’s gubernatorial race against GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin — has said she has no plans to convene a special session over bail reform laws before the election.

“I’m willing to revisit everything, but let’s see whether or not the system can start functioning the way we intended,” Hochul said last month.

“The legislature meets again next January and by that time we’ll be able to assess the real impact of our changes,” she added.

Washington County DA J. Anthony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said, “Our bail statute is now about punctuality and attendance.”

Jordan also accused lawmakers of having failed to “address how and when judges can utilize the discretion that they have, that they are required to use in every other aspect of their job.”

“The governor saying there’s a lack of political will to come back to Albany to address the root contributors to this — it’s hard for me to comprehend,” he added.

A Hochul spokeswoman said, “The notion that judges’ hands are tied is simply not supported by facts nor the data.”

“Judges have and use their broad discretion under the law every day,” press secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays said.

“This has been true for the decades that the state’s criminal procedure law has been on the books, was true before the 2019 law changes, and it is still true now.”

Crampton-Hays added: “This is all clear from the data that the courts release, which show that judges outside New York City release people at lower rates for the same types of crimes.”

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