ALBANY — State Sen. Jen Metzger of Rosendale, a progressive Democrat in a swing legislative district, is one of the lawmakers now calling for changes in the new bail law she supported last year.
Her abrupt pivot on an important criminal justice issue comes amid a barrage of criticism for the measure from judges, prosecutors and police chiefs who say the move to keep most defendants out of local jails is jeopardizing public safety.
Metzger's announcement Wednesday also came on the eve of an announcement by a GOP rival, Michael Martucci, a school transportation expert and father of three from Orange County, that he is running for her Senate district that includes parts of Delaware County.
Metzger's announcement that she has become one of several co-sponsors of a bill restoring some judicial discretion at arraignments made no mention of the fact of her previous support for an end to cash bail for a long list of offenses.
The bill Metzger now supports would "ensure individuals are evaluated based on whether or not they will return to court, and crucially, whether or not they are a risk to the safety of the victim or another individual," according to the legislation.
Metzger said in a statement that "the old bail system was neither fair nor safe," but the one she now backs would "strike the right balance."
Martucci was not immediately available for comment. Last week, he suggested the bail issue would play a role in the race, telling the Daily Freeman of Kingston Metzger voted for new bail rules "because she apparently thinks it's OK to allow criminals who assault a child, bring a weapon on school grounds or abuse animals to be set free immediately after their arrest."
Metzger's office did not return a call requesting comment.
Democrats, particularly in the upstate region, have been re-examining the bail legislation following a wave of newspaper and television reports on the arrests of individuals with criminal histories who had to be released from custody almost immediately after facing new charges.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, has been consistently opposed to proposals to ditch judicial discretion at arraignments.
"I remain strongly opposed to it and that's my stance," he said Wednesday night. Jones said he senses growing support among upstate Democrats to revise the law enacted last year, citing a surge of public safety concerns.
"This is the problem with these big budget bills," Jones said, referring to the fact the bail legislation was tucked into Gov. Andew Cuomo's state spending plan, along with many other proposals unrelated to the budget. "It's just not a good way to do government."
The bail issue also frothed up Wednesday as a Syracuse lawyer, Sam Rodgers, former captain of the Syracuse University football squad and a Republican, announced he was running for the seat now held by Sen. Rachel May, a Democrat who backed the new bail law.
"Our representatives didn't listen to district attorneys, who we elect to enforce criminal justice," Rodgers was quoted as saying by radio station WAER.
Supporters of what sponsors called bail reform said it was unfair to lock up people who are presumed innocent and are too poor to come up with bail money that wealthier defendants can afford.
Cuomo, the state's top Democrat, signaled this week the bail legislation he signed should be adjusted.
"Nobody wants to have a system where you are releasing dangerous people who committed a violent crime or are charged with committing a violent crime," the governor told television station WCBS.
Some police leaders are now routinely calling attention to what they describe as dangerous defendants being released without having to post bail due to the law that became effective Jan. 1.
Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond cited the case of a man he said is affiliated with the MS-13 crime gang, Eusebio Jax-Mejia, 21. He allegedly stole a car Tuesday afternoon from the county public safety parking lot minutes after he was released on his recognizance in connection with an earlier charge alleging he stole another car and gave cops a false name.
"The people of New York are crying out and their voices are falling on deaf ears," DuMond said in a statement. "The first duty of any public official is to provide for the safety of the people they represent and currently they are failing miserably."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com