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2022 Election Profile: Assembly Candidate Jim Magee

By Jessica Meditz

[email protected]

Jim Magee, a defense attorney, former prosecutor, and lifelong resident of Sunnyside announced his bid for the New York State Assembly’s 37th District seat, occupied by outgoing Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.

Nolan, whose district encompasses the Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood communities in Western Queens, has held the position since 1984. Following the announcement of her retirement, four local candidates have opted to throw their hats into the ring.

Magee, 41, has run his own law firm for eight years, where he does pro bono work for locals who have found themselves in tough situations.

He earned his bachelor’s Degree from Fordham University and a Juris Doctorate from St. John’s Law School.

Although this is the first time Magee is running for office himself, he previously helped manage the campaign for Patrick O’Malley when he ran against Nolan for the same seat back in 2000.

The top three issues he’s focusing his campaign on are wealth disparity, bail reform, and public transportation.

“As a Democrat, I think that we should be focused on bridging the gap between the rich and the working class. I don’t understand the hesitance to do that, both nationally and in state government,” Magee said. “It’s irritating.”

Magee used the subject of economic disparity to segway into bail reform, which he’s adamantly opposed to.

“I couldn’t believe what was being proposed,” he said of the law enacted in 2019. “It was written by people who don’t work in the court and don’t know what was happening.”

Magee argues that the bail reform, intended to prevent the poor from sitting in jail until their court dates, has instead caused a stark uptick in crime in the city.

“Incarceration was down statewide 20 percent over the 10 years before bail reform was passed. Crime was also down,” Magee said. “I’m not saying the system was perfect, but whatever we were doing was working.”

He is in favor of making it more difficult for violent offenders to get bail, bringing back plainclothes police officers, and increasing police training.

As for public transportation, Magee said that local Manhattan-bound “7” train service has been shut down during midday for over 30 years, and must be restored.

“It’s been going on since I was in high school, and the MTA always gives the same reason… track replacement,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone working on it, and I never understood why our elected officials never stepped up for that.”

He would also encourage increased frequency in bus service, and put pressure on the MTA not to increase the fare until riders saw a noticeable improvement in the quality of service provided.

To prepare for the election, Magee said he initially corralled a large group of friends to donate money, sign petitions, and spread the word. He has raised about $88,000 for his campaign so far.

“If you know me, and you live in the district, I’ve been a real pain in the ass,” Magee said. “I’ve been calling friends asking them to do things, my people have been knocking on doors, and mailers have gone out.”

He says that if elected, he will be accessible to constituents as he’s a parishioner at St. Teresa’s Church in Woodside, and has his cell phone number on his business cards.

Magee will square off against three fellow attorneys—Brent O’Leary, a Hunters Point Civic Association co-founder and current president of Woodside on the Move, Johanna Carmona, Nolan’s former Hispanic community liaison, and Juan Ardila, a Legal Aid Society program coordinator and former Brad Lander staffer—who are all vying for the Assembly seat, in the upcoming Democratic primary on June 28th.

When it comes to his competition, Magee said that he feels Ardila is his biggest threat.

“He’s the only true blue progressive in the race, and the other three of us are some version of a moderate. I’m basically the Republican in this race,” Magee said.
“When I spoke with Cathy [Nolan], she made this seem as though it’s hopeless. But what I do for a living is dealing with a lot of eavesdropping and meeting with people to find out what they’re really interested in,” he continued.

“I’m very eager to do that in Albany and find out how it works.”

OPED: Changing the tide on bail reform

My name is Jim Magee, and I am a Democratic candidate for State Assembly in the 37th District in Queens. I am a former prosecutor, current criminal defense attorney, husband, and father. In 2019, so-called “progressives” in the New York State legislature made it nearly impossible to prosecute crime. As a result, crime in the City is up over 40 percent this year. These changes, commonly known as “bail reform,” were passed in Albany without a debate or a vote by people with almost no experience in criminal justice. Mayor Adams wants to reverse many of these changes. So do I. As I talk to voters, it is clear that there is some confusion as to what changes were actually made.

The law is nicknamed “bail reform” because the legislature prohibited experienced judges from setting bail in most cases. This means that, no matter what the defendant’s prior track record for appearing in court, he is released. These crimes included larceny, assault, robbery, and burglary. There have been some horrific results of this change, most notably, Christina Yuna Lee who was stabbed to death in her bathtub in Chinatown in February.

The defendant in the case was out of jail on a pending assault charge when he was re-arrested in January for 27 counts of property damage. Then, due to the bail reform law, he was released without bail a month before the murder. Tragically, almost every day there is a crime story on the front page.

Unfortunately, ending judicial discretion is not the most damaging part of the law. The legislature, with no debate and no input from judges or the 62 democratically elected district attorneys, placed a crippling discovery burden on prosecutors. Already overworked assistant district attorneys were now given the responsibility to track down all paperwork, notes, and videos before a case could be marked for trial. No additional funds were provided to the District Attorneys in order to meet this new obligation. These offices were overwhelmed. The result was that hundreds of thousands of cases were dismissed or prematurely settled because prosecutors only had time to prosecute the most serious crimes. You may have noticed the change if your local pharmacy is either locking up its inventory or closing for business entirely. Under these laws, there is no consequence for stealing from a store.

The responsible thing for the legislature to have done would have been to increase funding for mental health and addiction. In the two decades that I worked in criminal justice prior to the new law, I watched the district attorneys increasingly direct those suffering from mental illness and addiction into court-ordered outpatient treatment as an alternative to incarceration. I am a member of a panel of defense attorneys who take the cases of those who cannot afford a lawyer. Prior to the new discovery law, I was placing two or three people into court-ordered treatment a month. Since the law passed, I have not placed anybody into treatment. Those cases are simply not being prosecuted and those defendants are off the radar. Enrollments in court-ordered addiction and mental health treatment have plummeted. While the criminal court is empty, you may have noticed a change in your local park or on the subway.

It is hard to believe that this was not all done on purpose by people with no criminal justice experience. Proponents of the law claim that it addresses the socioeconomic inequities in the system, but that simply isn’t true. Most of the victims of the current rise in crime are the poorest among us. Furthermore, there are plenty of inequities in the penal code itself that target the poor. For instance, someone without identification in a housing project is subject to arrest. Apparently, the legislature simply could not be bothered with addressing laws such as that. But this is because the purpose of the law was not to fix criminal prosecution at all, it was to effectively end it. The results are everywhere. Instead of recognizing this for the crisis that it is, my opponents have gone even further, calling for defunding the police department at a time when crime is on the rise and our citizens are afraid. All of our tough gun laws are only as effective as the police we have to enforce them.

Progressive values should include a fairer tax code, higher wages, universal health care, affordable housing, and a healthy environment for ourselves and our children.

Unfortunately, that is not where our representatives in Albany used their political capital. This last budget gave hundreds of millions more away in tax breaks for the rich.

Meanwhile, those affected by crime were ignored. There is nothing “progressive” about refusing to prosecute crime. Protecting the weak and vulnerable is something that we used to take for granted as a matter of common sense and decency. We should never stop working to end the causes of crime, but to ignore a crime once it is committed is an abdication of basic governmental responsibility. Please help me and elected officials like Mayor Adams reverse this trend and show that the Democratic

Party can govern responsibly on public safety. We have to stop electing people who simply do not know what they are doing.

 

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