Mayor Bill de Blasio appealed to the court of public opinion Monday to raise public objections over what he deemed to be a slow-moving criminal justice system where courts aren’t moving fast enough to process new cases.
The mayor said the city’s courts were out of order when it comes to moving along non-gun violence cases through, chiding them for delivering only 18 trial verdicts in the first six months of 2021; by comparison, more than 400 were tried in the first half of 2019. The lack of action on these cases, de Blasio said, allows suspects to evade justice on technicalities and walk the streets to commit more crimes.
In response, a spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System suggested de Blasio didn’t know what he was talking about — and pointed the finger of blame at prosecutors and defense attorneys for not being swiftly prepared.
Courts across New York state curtailed in-person activity at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April 2020, but in recent months have lifted restrictions to allow further processing of civil and criminal cases. De Blasio has appealed repeatedly for New York City courts to lift almost all of its restrictions and return to a pre-pandemic level of activity in order to expeditiously handle thousands of pending criminal cases.
Though the courts acquiesced in expediting gun cases, de Blasio claimed on Monday, the local courts were not keeping up with the large number of arrests for non-gun violence offenses. He said the NYPD has informed him this, more than anything, was continuing to drive crime across the Five Boroughs.
“To fight violence, to fight crime, you need to address all crimes,” the mayor said at his Aug. 30 briefing. “You can’t just focus on the gun offenses. … If the court system isn’t moving, there are no consequences. It stops us from ensuring there is every tool available to fight crime.”
De Blasio said his administration has repeatedly been in contact with the Unified Court System about increasing case processing in the city’s courts, which are under state control. He said he was perplexed as to why the courts haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels when city functions — including the NYPD, the FDNY and the public school system — have all returned to next-to-normal operations.
The mayor went as far as to suggest that criminals are emboldened by the situation, and that those who operate the court system care little about kicking things back into high gear.
“If folks who commit crimes think they’re not going to see a courtroom for a long, long time, unfortunately, it encourages them to commit more crimes,” de Blasio said. “But if you literally have so much disrespect for your own criminal justice system that you don’t think it matters if it doesn’t function, then maybe you shouldn’t be working there.”
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the Unified Court System, issued a scathing rebuttal moments after de Blasio’s remarks, accusing the mayor of “gaslighting” the public and failing to comprehend the system’s operations.
“Yet again, the mayor demonstrates his glaring lack of understanding of the criminal justice process in this state. His gaslighting rhetoric regarding court operations in an attempt to shift the public safety discussion continues,” Chalfen wrote.
The spokesperson stated that the courts have been back at full strength since May, but that the reduced number of trials were the result of attorneys not being quickly prepared to handle them.
“Trials are being held, but for cases to be tried, you need the prosecution and defense to have their cases prepared, which isn’t occurring in s number of Counties,” Chalfen added.