Low bail and serious charges

Saturday August 18, 2012


Reporter Andrew Amelinckx had a most interesting story in this paper on Thursday. It recounted how a suspect in multiple felonies in New York state was arrested in Pittsfield by Mass achusetts state police. Among other alleged crimes, he was accused of kidnapping, burglary and criminal contempt.

The Berkshire County District Attorney's office asked for no bail and presiding Judge Fredric D. Rutberg assigned bail of $500. The news article painted a picture of a young man who told the court that he was "very scared."

Perhaps the judge saw this poor trembling kid before him and took pity. On the other hand, a junior high school kid with a handgun can kill you just as an adult can.

This judge is a very smart man but In this case, it seems to me that he should have done what the DA wanted him to do.

The whole idea of bail is to make sure that someone who may have broken the law shows up in court. To a kid with little or no money, $500 may be equivalent to several hundred thousand dollars for a well-heeled defendant. Of course, some defendants are so dangerous that a high bail can be used to keep them locked up.

According to the Eagle report, one of the charges against the young man is "criminal contempt." If, for example, someone goes where he has been told not to go, he may face such a charge. How many times have we seen someone become the victim of a terrible crime because an order of protection was violated? The consequences can be tragic.

I would not want to be a judge making these decisions, but hey, I didn't ask to be a judge. Judges are very powerful people and if they act in an arbitrary or capricious manner, they can do bad things. It's important that we keep an eye on those who have the most power.


One of the best things in life is when you meet an old friend whom you haven't seen in years. Spending summers on Fire Island, I had a friend named David Epstein, one of the nicest young men you could find anywhere. He's now a respected playwright and has written a new work, "Brace Yourself," that is set in the very place where we grew up.

I knew his family very well. His father, Benjamin Epstein, was the head of the Anti-Defamation League for over 30 years. I have been quoting his mother, Ethel Epstein, for years. Now there was a tough lady. She would always talk about her mother who would come over to her house and, after complaining that she hadn't slept for weeks, would fall asleep for hours.

Every time I hear someone say, "I haven't slept for weeks," I tell them that they sound like Ethel Epstein. She was one funny lady who set new records for candor about just about everyone.

I remember a professor I knew who has had a long and distinguished career. One day as he was passing her house Ethel said, "He was nuts when he was a kid and he's still nuts." The point is that David admits that his play has certain roots in his mother, Ethel, so I can't wait to see it tonight at the Berkshire Theatre Festival Main Stage in Stockbridge.

It's great when you can see a part of your life on stage. If I know anything about David Epstein, the play is going to be a real winner.

Alan Chartock is President and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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