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February 20, 2019

‘Court Watch’ volunteers begin to monitor Queens as District Attorney race heats up

February 6, 2019
Queens Criminal Courthouse (Eli Rosenberg)

A group of over 600 volunteers who monitor city courthouses will begin attending arraignments in Queens as the race to succeed retiring District Attorney Richard Brown gets underway.

Court Watch activists hope the data they record in court starting Wednesday will factor in the race sure to be impacted by the Democratic base outraged by President Trump’s immigration crackdown, as well as criminal justice issues unique to the borough.

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Volunteer Jon McFarlane, 50, from Jamaica, Queens, accompanied the Daily News on a 2½-hour shift monitoring night arraignments. He noted defendants’ age, race, and gender, as well as their charges and whether or not bail was requested and granted by the judge.

“You come. You observe. You report,” McFarlane said of his role. “When DAs know there’s people out there watching it makes them more appreciative of the fact that they have to be fair.”

He hadn’t chosen his candidate for DA, which includes Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Councilman Rory Lancman and former CCRB head Mina Malik. But he knew which criminal justice policies he wanted to see change.

“We need a DA that’ll decriminalize marijuana arrests,” he said.

“We need a Queens DA who will reform how undocumented people are treated in the judicial system.”

Court Watch has already made waves in Brooklyn and Manhattan by highlighting racial disparities in pot possession cases. The group pledged to have a volunteer in arraignments every day and publish its findings before the June election. They’ll be keeping a particular eye out for cases involving bail jumping, marijuana, and prostitution.

The people of Queens deserve to know what is being done in their name. We believe with that knowledge comes action and power,” said Nina Luo, a Court Watch coordinator.

A spokesperson for Queens DA Richard Brown said “Court Watchers…and everyone else are welcome in our courts. We will continue to carry out our oaths to enforce the law fairly and equitably for all who come before our courts.”

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