Queens County Criminal Court // Eagle photo by Andy Katz

A Slice of Life on a Busy Day at the Courthouse

With summer over and the weather getting colder, normal life has resumed in Queens. Look no further than the long lines stretching from the metal detectors at the criminal courthouse for evidence.

“We’re busy today,” said employee wearing a Department of Citywide Administrative Services lanyard as he carried a plate stacked with bagels through the hallway and onto an elevator.

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Justice Jeremy Weinstein, administrative judge of the Queens County Supreme County, Civil Term. // Photo courtesy of Civil Court

For Judge Weinstein, Pride Comes In ‘Making Things Work’

State Supreme Court Justice Jeremy Weinstein, the administrative judge in the Queens County Civil term, has accomplished a tremendous amount in his nearly 25 years on the bench.

Weinstein created a dedicated Matrimonial Part to address issues related to child support, visitation and related financial issues. He oversaw the development of a Foreclosure Part and a free Uncontested Matrimonial Clinic, where people receive assistant in uncontested divorces with no property, support or custody issues.

He even got the city to repair the civil courthouse’s broken elevator system that had long forced staff and litigants to climb several flights of stairs just to have their day in court.

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Council Member Rory Lancman debated Assistant District Attorney James Quinn on the future of Rikers Island Wednesday. // Eagle photo by David Brand 

Lancman, Legal Aid Condemn ADA’s Browder Comments

In the days since Council Member Rory Lancman and Queens Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney James Quinn debated about the future of Rikers Island, one specific exchange about Kalief Browder has garnered national attention.

While defending the proposal to close jails on Rikers Island and open four “borough-based” jails, Lancman — a potential candidate in the 2019 Queens DA race — frequently described how the bail system keeps low-income defendants in detention simply because they cannot afford to the pay bail.

He cited the experience of Browder, a 16-year-old from the Bronx who was arrested for stealing a backpack and held on Rikers for three years — including two in solitary confinement — because he could not afford to pay bail. Ultimately, Browder’s C Felony charges were dismissed.

Two years after his release, Browder committed suicide.

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Bronx County Criminal Court Supervising Judge George Grasso. // Eagle Photo by Paula Katinas

Bronx Judge Who Pioneered Incarceration Alternatives Content on the Bench, Source Says

A Bronx criminal court judge with Queens connections is the latest leader to reportedly consider a run for Queens district attorney in 2019.

The New York Law Journal reported that George Grasso, the supervising judge of the Bronx Criminal Court has begun to consider a run for Queens District Attorney in 2019.

The report cited an unnamed source familiar with the “Queens policial scene.”

Office of Court Administration spokesperson Lucian Chalfen declined to speculate on Grasso’s future plans.

“Any discussion regarding Judge Grasso and a campaign for Queens County District Attorney is premature,” Chalfen told the Eagle. “Along with being focused on supervising the Criminal Court in the Bronx, Judge Grasso is the point person in the expansion of the highly successful opioid avoidance and recovery part he pioneered in the Bronx.”

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Council Member Rory Lancman debated Assistant District Attorney James Quinn on the future of Rikers Island Wednesday. // Eagle photo by David Brand 

Debate Highlights Contrasting Views On Rikers’ Future — And On Justice Reform

Council Member Rory Lancman faced off against Queens Assistant District Attorney James Quinn in a heated debate about the future of Rikers Island at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills Wednesday night.

Of the many accusations, complicated budget scenarios and impassioned declarations volleyed back and forth between the two men and audience members, one exchange seemed to crystallize the fundamental difference of opinion on the future of the massive jail complex — and on broader criminal justice reform.

During his opening statement, Quinn, speaking for Queens Defense Attorney Richard Brown and the D.A.’s office, critiqued efforts to close Rikers as a “movement.”

“A movement doesn’t look at details,” Quinn said, before outlining budget underestimations and hammering what he considered impracticalities, like where the city would house inmates during the development of four proposed “borough-based” jails.

An hour later, Lancman addressed the specific statement in his closing remarks.  

“The effort to close Rikers Island is a movement,” Lancman said. “It’s part of a larger movement to reform a criminal justice system that is dysfunctional, broken and overwhelmingly falls on the backs of poor people.”

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It’s Lancman vs. Quinn at Civic Association’s Rikers Debate

The debate over what to do with Rikers Island has roiled Queens and one community in particular stands to experience the biggest impact from the city’s plan to close the massive jail complex.

Kew Gardens, home to the now-vacant Queens House of Detention, would absorb more than 1,500 Rikers inmates, according to the city’s proposal — a notion that has encountered split reactions from residents.

Thus, with community members divided and uncertain about the plan, the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association will host a debate featuring two prominent voices on either side of the issue at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on Sept. 5.

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Queens County Criminal Court // Eagle photo by Andy Katz

Several Courtrooms Quiet During Last Week of Summer

With several judges out of their chambers and away on vacation, several courtrooms in the Queens County criminal courthouse remained quiet on Wednesday.

Justice Gregory Lasak, who recently decided to retire effective Sept. 14 and who presides over the court’s homicide part, was one of the absent judges. Cases scheduled for TAP D were moved to K22, along with the calendars for several other judges who were also away.

It remains unclear who will take over Lasak’s calendar, which includes high-profile homicide cases like that of Chanel Lewis, the man charged with killing Karina Vetrano, 30, while she was jogging in Howard Beach.

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Judge Mojgan Lancman serves on the bench in Supreme Court, Civil Term and as president of the Brandeis Association. // Photo courtesy of Brandeis Association

Understanding Is Imperative To Judge Lancman

Litigants might not always like the outcome, but one thing is for certain in Justice Mojgan Lancman’s courtroom: everyone will understand what is happening and why a decision was made.

That’s because Lancman, a Supreme Court, Civil Term justice, champions the importance of understanding in the courtroom. It was her own experience settling in Queens after escaping religious persecution in her native Iran that informed that perspective.

“Having had the experience of being an immigrant and walking into a situation I knew nothing about where everything was different, [enables me] to have the patience to explain things to people,” Lancman said. “If [litigants] don’t have an attorney or English is their second language, I want to make sure they understand what is happening. Even if they get a result they didn’t want or they have to come back to court, they at least understand why.”

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Queens County Criminal Court // Eagle photo by David Brand

Queens DA Race Heats Up With Lasak Resignation

In the days since Queens Criminal Court Justice Gregory Lasak decided to step down from his position effective Sept. 14, the race for district attorney has begun to heat up.

The decision to leave the Supreme Court bench enables Lasak to begin fundraising ahead of a potential candidacy for Queens County District Attorney in 2019. As of press time, Lasak did not respond to requests for comment.

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Katz and Coalition Help Homeless Go Back to School

The Coalition for the Homeless is holding its annual “Project: Back to School” drive to collect backpacks and other school supplies for children in need until Aug. 30 and they are getting an assist from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz

Katz has encouraged Queens residents to stop by Borough Hall in Kew Gardens to drop off donated items.

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