Hundreds of guests, religious figures and dignitaries were in attendance of the inauguration of Melinda Katz, the first woman to become district attorney of Queens, at her alma mater St. John’s University in Jamaica on Monday.
Some of the officials that came to wish her well on her new journey as she leaves behind her role as borough president were U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica, Far Rockaway), Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, A.G. Tish James and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Our D.A. is a hard worker,” said Meeks, who is also the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party. “Melinda Katz will still be Melinda Katz no matter what the title is, no matter where she goes!”
Meeks described Katz, who he has known since she became an assemblywoman in 1994, as a “person of conscience.”
“A conscience is defined as a sense conscientiousness of the moral goodness and laying witness of one’s own conduct, intentions and character together with an obligation to do right,” said Meeks. “That is what we need in a district attorney.”
Nearly a dozen activists known as Court Watch NYC were outside the university’s arena with signs that said “DA Katz we’re watching you!” with the hope that the former borough president actually has a conscience and will fulfill her promise to be a progressive district attorney.
“We just want her to keep her campaign promise,” said one activist as another handed out fliers that listed nine of Katz’s progressive policies.
One of the nine policies, the plea waiver policy, was addressed as far back as Christmas Eve and the denunciation of ICE in Queens’ courts was declared at the inauguration. The cash bail system was also mentioned at the swearing-in ceremony, but there has been no official policy outline on the matter.
“We have a criminal justice system where some people are more likely to be arrested, or prosecuted and incarcerated for longer periods simply because of the color of their skin or because the amount of money they have to post bail – that is not justice, that is injustice,” said Katz. “My office is committed to ending cash bail in all forms period. But it must be done right. It can’t be achieved until we have a system in place assuring that defendants indeed come back to court.”
The remaining policies that the Queens chapter of Court Watch will closely examine include an end to marijuana prosecutions, an end to prosecuting sex workers, the full database on bad cops, support for Legal Aid with improved mental health services, prioritizing general welfare for communities in need while decarcerating crimes of poverty and establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit.
In the midst of her inaugural speech, Katz announced that Bryce Benjet, a former senior staff attorney for the Innocence Project, would oversee the Conviction Integrity Unit.
“This unit will free the innocent,” said Katz. “Every wrongful conviction is more than a wrongful act against an individual, it is an injustice to an entire family.”