MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County District Attorney (DA) Jim Farrell has been serving as the county’s top prosecutor since 2010, and has worked in the DA’s office since 1995. Now, he …
MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County District Attorney (DA) Jim Farrell has been serving as the county’s top prosecutor since 2010, and has worked in the DA’s office since 1995. Now, he says, it’s time to take that experience and become a county judge.
“I’ve been honing my skills in the courtroom, and I think I’m ready to make sure that every citizen of this county gets true and fair justice with me as the presiding judge of the county court,” he said.
Farrell will run against Cynthia Dolan for the judge spot (see article above).
The move from DA to judge is a fairly common career path, he noted. George Cook, who later became the state’s chief justice, and who was the grandfather of current commissioner of jurors, also named George Cook, also moved from the DA position to county court judge.
Speaking about his work as a DA in an interview with The River Reporter, Farrell said his primary focus is justice, which to him means more than prosecuting suspects.
“If we get a case where we exonerate somebody, that’s justice,” he said. “It may never see the inside of a courtroom. So, I’m doing justice every day. I have to be fair to defendants and, unlike a defense attorney, who has a zealous advocacy of a client’s rights, the DA’s got to look at everybody.”
He said the cases where there may not be enough evidence to prosecute can be difficult.
“It’s not the prosecution where you have the evidence, but it’s the cases where you maybe don’t have enough evidence, and then you tell the complainant or the victim that there’s not enough, and it doesn’t sit well,” he said. “But again, you’re not in this for popularity, you’re in this to do your job, which is to follow the law, and if you can’t prove your case, and you know you can’t prove your case, you shouldn’t bring your case. I’ve instilled that in my staff.”
Beginning in January, the state’s bail system will undergo significant change. Many crimes that now result in bail will see defendants released on their own recognizance (ROR). Farrell has been a staunch critic of the change.
“I wanted to improve the lives of the citizens of this county, I wanted to make them safe,” he said about why he took office to begin with. “One of the things that was most important to me was burglary. Why? Because, burglary robs a person of their feeling of safety in their own home… So, we took a very hard look at all burglars and the results are startling.”
Farrell said that in 2012 there were more than 500 reported burglaries, and about 100 of them were prosecuted. In 2018, the number of reported burglaries fell to just over 200. “It’s been a 61 percent decrease, ever year… because we took a hard line on burglary.”
Now, many of those accused of burglary will be ROR. He said there may be several unintended consequences because of the change in the bail system.
“Many times people take advantage of our drug court because they are in jail, and can’t make bail,” he said. Farrell said that he’s seen family members of addicts accuse their loved ones of theft so that they’re put in jail “They want to get their loved one locked up, so their loved one doesn’t overdose and die on fentanyl-laced heroin or fake opiate pills.”
Now that will change. Those charged with burglary or drug possession will be freed ROR unless the amount of drugs is very large.
“You’re talking about 4,000 or 8,000 individual packets of heroin to get to those levels,” he said. “Now you’ve got family members who want to get loved ones help, but they’re not going to go get help because there is no incentive.
“Bottom line, I don’t like the legislation,” he said. “I think they’re going to tweak it. I think they’ve gotten some blowback, and even the senator [Jen Metzger] has said she didn’t know that a lot of those crimes were included in the legislation… and she voted for it.”
Another change coming to the state’s judicial system relates to the time line for when prosecutors must hand over evidence to the defendant. As the law now stands, prosecutors aren’t required to turn over all evidence until a jury is seated. Farrell said his practice now is to turn over evidence 30 days before trail. The new law will require turning over evidence 15 days after arraignment. Not all evidence is available then, he said, adding that if computers or smart phones are part of the evidence package, it can be months before they are analyzed. The new law, he conceded, may lead to earlier plea bargains if defendants are aware of the evidence against them.
Turning back to his experience as he looks ahead to his campaign, Farrell noted the time he’s spent prosecuting crime in Sullivan County.
“Who has been in the trenches on the ground in the county courthouses [for the] last 24 years?” he asked. “Who has been presenting witnesses, presenting evidence… these are the things a judge is going to have to rule on. These are the things I’ve been doing for the last for 24 years.”