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NYC judge quotes Grateful Dead rock hit to slam state bail

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Call him the Dead Head judge.

A Bronx jurist who labels the state’s soft-on-crime bail reform laws “a confusing mess” is stepping up his game — using the legendary Grateful Dead to make his point.

“Maybe you’ll find direction/ Around some corner where it’s been waiting to meet you,” Bronx Acting Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Zimmerman wrote in a ruling last week, quoting lyrics from the rock hit “Box of Rain.”

“Clearly, the bass player and lyricist of the Grateful Dead have never read New York’s bail reform statutes,” Zimmerman wrote. “Instead of direction, the statutes provide judges with obfuscation and legislative sleight of hand.

“The legislature’s cynical attempt to mollify the public’s concerns about safety, without expressly giving judges the tools to address them, has created a confusing mess.”

Zimmerman’s lengthy diatribe came Thursday, when he explained why he reduced bail on Edward Santiago, 23, who is charged with attempted murder and gun possession — while making it clear a new $200,000 amount was sufficient to ensure Santiago would return to court, as the law requires.


pictured is Acting Bronx Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Zimmerman.
Acting Bronx Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Zimmerman has spoken out against the state’s controversial bail reform statutes. In a written opinion last week he quoted the legendary rock band the Grateful Dead to make his point.
Bronx Criminal Court

The judge called the prior bail of $335,000 “somewhat complicated” because it was set by two separate judges for two separate criminal complaints — and said it was “higher than necessary to secure his return.”

It’s not the first time he’s railed against the criminal justice reforms — last year Zimmerman penned an op-ed piece for the Daily News criticizing the state’s “disingenuous” bail debate.

Zimmerman’s written rants stem from the 2019 reforms that barred judges from setting bail on most cases, and mandated the “least restrictive” bail on bail-eligible cases to ensure defendants return to court.

In subsequent years, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers have made changes to the law, diluting the “least restrictive” requirement, adding more bail-eligible charges and allowing judges to consider a defendant’s potential harm to the community.


Critic of state bail reform is seen holding sign.
New York State’s controversial 2019 criminal justice reforms barred judges from setting bail on most cases. The law has been tweaked several times since to add gun charges and other crimes to the list of bail-eligible offenses.
William Farrington

Yet despite the tweaks, Zimmerman said judges are still dissuaded from considering a defendant’s “dangerousness” — and still harp on setting bail that merely ensures they return to court.

“What does the end of ‘least restrictive mean? Short answer: Not much,” he wrote. “The governor’s fixation on removing the ‘least restrictive means’ requirement seemed rooted in her belief that judges somehow don’t understand all the tools in their bail box.

“Although nobody really knows — or wants to know — exactly how the sausage is made in Albany, you don’t need to get inside the casing to see that the legislature is trying to have it both ways.


Bronx Criminal Court is pictured
Bronx Criminal Court, where the borough’s criminal cases are first heard. Empire State judges are prohibited from setting bail on most cases, and are required, under a 2019 reform package, to consider only enough to ensure a return to court.
Christopher Sadowski

“They want to mollify those critics who believe that bail reform is letting more dangerous people out to do dangerous things, while still limiting the purpose of bail to making sure people come back to court,” Zimmerman wrote, “foregoing the ‘public safety’ rational that’s a third rail for the most progressive members of the legislature.”

In Santiago’s case, he set bail at a $200,000 bond or $100,000 cash.

According to city jail records, he posted bail and was released from Rikers Island earlier this month.

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