The first woman District Attorney in Queens took her oath of office on Tuesday, January 6, promising to “do the right thing,” at an inauguration ceremony at St. John’s University, where she attended law school.
“I was elected, I like to think, because of the trust that I will bring a steady hand in these times of uncertainty – a steady hand, a common-sense hand,” Melinda Katz said in her inauguration speech. Katz secured her position after a tight race where the final count gave her a 60-vote lead over leftist Tiffany Cabán. Feeling emboldened by the near-win, a small group of leftists picketed Katz’s inauguration, accusing her of not being supportive enough on bail reform.
Among the changes that Katz is instituting: the conviction integrity unit to review past convictions based on new evidence, refusal to cooperate with immigration enforcement agents, and the 180.80 waiver policy that allows defendants to enter a plea bargain five days after an indictment without waiving their right to a grand jury. Katz also spoke in support of eliminating cash bail, which became law at the turn of the New Year, which enables suspects for a variety of crimes. But in the days after the new law went into effect, an effort is growing among state lawmakers to restore discretion to judges for some offenses, such as hate crimes, and where a suspect’s criminal record demonstrates the individual’s potential to be a danger to the community.
Since the launch of her campaign, Katz wavered from eliminating cash bail only for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, to entirely abolishing the practice. At her inauguration, leftist activists also picketed the event, arguing that Katz should be more vocal in eliminating cash bail, as it disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals.
Prior to her election as District Attorney, Katz served as Queens Borough President, City Councilwoman, and State Assemblywoman. She was first elected to public office at age 28, shortly after graduating law school at St. John’s University. Katz’s inauguration ceremony was attended by nearly 1,500 people, including State Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Rep. Greg Meeks, among other members of New York’s political class. Rabbi Hayim Schwartz, Executive Vice President of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, delivered the invocation, reminding the public of the need for having laws. He cited a famous Pirkei Avos line, “Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it, men would swallow each other alive.”
“There are a lot of naysayers and critics. There are those who say we’re not going far enough, there are those who are going too far,” said Katz. “I look forward to that challenge with the trust to do the right thing even though we know we can’t achieve it all in that single day.”
By Sergey Kadinsky