Back to All Migrated Pages

Leading Judge Calls for Grand Jury Transparency at Capital Region Chapter Annual Meeting; New Board Members Also Elected

Leading Judge Calls for Grand Jury Transparency at Capital Region Chapter Annual Meeting; New Board Members Also Elected

May 25, 2015 — Judge Lawrence K. Marks, New York State’s first deputy chief administrative judge, told the annual meeting of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union that current grand jury secrecy has “a pernicious effect that shuts down debate and discussion,” and that “we need to change the law” to inject transparency into the grand jury process.

The annual meeting was held at the Albany Law School on Thursday, May 21.

Marks called for a two-part reform: the addition of a judge to any grand jury proceeding that was examining excessive police use of force, and public release of properly redacted witness testimony in all cases that do not result in an indictment.

The reform plan, Marks said, is the product of the New York State Office of Court Administration and was outlined earlier this year by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Marks is the second ranking administrative official in the court system and is involved in developing policy on questions such as this.

Marks explained that adding judges to grand jury proceedings that look into police use of force issues would provide useful guidance for jurors who otherwise have only prosecutors to advise them.

“A judge would advise what evidence would be inadmissible in a later trial and could give legal definitions,” Marks said. “If a judge had presided over the [Eric] Garner grand jury, would the result be different?”

He also pointed out that, under present law, judges already have supervisory authority over grand juries.

On the subject of releasing witness testimony, Marks said there is currently “no standard; no guidance. We would create a presumption of disclosure.”

He pointed out that in cases where no grand jury indictments are handed down, the public has no idea what charges were even considered.

“There needs to be a national discussion about whether or not grand juries are serving their intended purpose,” or whether they have merely become subservient and outdated tools of prosecutors, Marks said. “Too often [grand juries] are seen as an arm of the prosecutor.”

The following new board members were also elected at the CRC annual meeting:

DOMINICK CALSOLARO has been a progressive force on the Albany Common Council where he served for three terms. During his tenure, he co-sponsored a number of important resolutions. One called upon Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act, which would end immigration discrimination involving couples who are same-sex; another called on city agencies to refrain from unnecessarily questioning individuals’ immigration status, and a third called for the city to provide equitable language access in its dealings with the public.

He has long been active in Albany’s South End, serving on the South End Revitalization Task Force/South End Action Committee and on the advisory committee at Historic Cherry Hill. He had a 33-year career working with the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission and, for a dozen years early in his working life, he was a cook at his family’s restaurant in Albany. He is a board member of Citizen Action of New York and a past recipient of the Ned Pattison Award given by the NYCLU Capital Region Chapter.

JUSTIN P. HARRISON is the former legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana who recently moved to Albany. During his time with the Louisiana ACLU he oversaw several dozen cases dealing with free speech, student expression, online speech, government retaliation for offensive or controversial speech, school prayer, prisoners’ rights to medical care and pre-trial detention. He has briefed and argued several cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He also taught the Law of Mass Communication course at Loyola University of New Orleans.

Harrison was a founding member of the New Orleans Bar Association Section on Civil Rights and edited the ACLU of Louisiana’s Students’ Rights Handbook. Before locating to Louisiana, he was a volunteer attorney for five years with the ACLU of New Jersey. He received his undergraduate degree from Ursinus College and his J.D. from the Rutgers University School of Law. He is currently a member of the NYCLU Capital Region Chapter legal committee.

DARRYL JOHNSON works as the Office Operations Coordinator at the Center for Law and Justice in Albany. At that agency he also is involved in designing and implementing the organization’s re-entry program for those who have been incarcerated. Previously he worked as a counselor of gay teens and with fathers seeking to strengthen their connections to their children’s lives. He worked in the life coach program of the Exodus Transitional Community and ran the organization’s Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative.

Johnson says his career is based on his total life experience. He was born in Harlem and had two children by the time he was 17. He spent four years in the Navy but also 10 years in prison. It was there that he found his calling. “Sitting in my cell,” he said, “I wasn’t the person my grandmother raised. I was a stranger even to myself.” He went on to earn 28 program completion certificates that set him on the path to his current career.

CARL STROCK was the principal Schenectady Gazette columnist for 25 years. His “View from Here” feature consistently exposed government malfeasance and corruption. He was an early and persistent advocate for Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, two American citizens who were “sting” targets in the government’s warrantless surveillance program. He has written movingly about the lack of open government in family courts, about those wrongly accused of child sex abuse and about illegal conduct by local police. He currently blogs on the Albany Times Union website.

Strock began his journalism career in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War working for the Associated Press and serving as a stringer for such publications as Time and Newsweek and for CBS and Westinghouse radio. He recently published his memoir, From D’burg to Jerusalem. He was a finalist for the Newspaper Guild’s prestigious Heywood Broun Award, and he is a past recipient of the Carol S. Knox award presented by the NYCLU Capital Region Chapter.

LISA D. WEINSTEIN works as a pro bono attorney in the Albany office of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. She also recruits other attorneys for pro bono representation as part of the organization’s advocacy on behalf of incarcerated individuals in civil litigation cases. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Skidmore College in 2009 and received her J.D. in 2014 from Pace University School of Law where she was development and acquisitions editor for the Pace Environmental Law Review.

During her educational career, she won several internships. She worked at the New York City office of then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and at the Albany office of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. In New York City she also worked at Newman Ferrara LLP/The Civil Rights Practice Group and for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project of the ACLU. In Washington, D.C. she interned at the Association of Clean Water Administration.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union