The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Bronx Criminal Court To End Closed-Door Arraignments, Officials Say

By Eddie Small | December 7, 2015 4:20pm
 Hospital arraignments done via video in The Bronx will no longer be conducted privately in a judge's chambers, according to court administrators.
Hospital arraignments done via video in The Bronx will no longer be conducted privately in a judge's chambers, according to court administrators.
View Full Caption

CONCOURSE — Criminal arraignments of defendants who are hospitalized in The Bronx will no longer be conducted in private via video stream, but will instead take place in an open court as is the standard in the rest of the city, officials said.

The change comes on the heels of court proceedings for suspected murderer Ashleigh Wade, whose two-way video arraignment while she was hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation took place behind closed doors in Judge George Grasso's chambers on Friday.

Wade was arraigned on murder and other charges after prosecutors say she stabbed her pregnant friend and carved her baby out of her stomach.

State court spokesman David Bookstaver acknowledged on Friday that Wade's arraignment was done improperly, and Bronx Criminal Court Chief Clerk William Kalish said they would change the practice.

"It will no longer be standard procedure from The Bronx," he said. "It will be open to the public."

Kalish said he did not know how long Bronx officials had conducted video hospital arraignments in private and referred questions to Bookstaver, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday.

"The reason for the change was it became clear and apparent to us that it should be open to the public," Kalish said, "So we’re going to make the change."

Dick Dadey, executive director of the good government group Citizens Union, said that doing these arraignments in an open court was the right way to ensure that people would trust the criminal justice system.

"When they go into the privacy of a backroom or a hospital room, the public loses its connection to the conduct of our democracy in an open and free society," he said.

Dadey characterized the private arraignments as a typical example of secrecy at the Bronx District Attorney's Office, which has been criticized during District Attorney Robert Johnson's tenure for its extremely low conviction rate.

The backlog of criminal cases in The Bronx was so high in recent years that extra judges had to be called in to help clear delays.

The DA's office also came under fire for the process by which incoming District Attorney Darcel Clark was elected, as Johnson waited until he had already won the primary before announcing that he would step down to seek a judgeship, clearing the way for party leaders instead of voters to pick his replacement candidate.

"This practice nerves the kind of insider deal making that seems to increasingly be the practice inside the DA’s office," Dadey said.

Clark, who made transparency part of her campaign platform, declined to comment.

The Bronx DA's office believes that all court proceedings should be open to the public except in extreme circumstances, such as when an active undercover officer has to testify, and supports conducting hospital arraignments done via video publicly, said Thomas Leahy, a spokesman for the Bronx DA's office.

Marvin Raskin, co-chair of the criminal law section of the Bronx Bar Association, said he supported the idea of holding public court hearings during video streamed hospital arraignments.

"I think if the court can accommodate the logistics, it is a good idea," he said. "Yes, I agree with that."

"However," Raskin continued, "I don’t see any constitutional infirmity to an arraignment being done in a judge’s chambers by video so long as the defendant — and this is extremely important — is represented by his counsel."