‘We have a full agenda’: Queens lawmaker takes command of Council’s Justice Committee

Rory Lancman
Photo: Facebook/Council member Rory I. Lancman

A Queens lawmaker will oversee the city’s criminal and civil justice systems for the next four years.

Councilman Rory Lancman, who represents areas of Fresh Meadows, Kew Gardens Hills and Jamaica, has been selected to head the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System. The committee has oversight of the city’s courts, district attorneys and legal service providers, as well as the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the “policy-making arm of the administration,” according to Lancman.

The newly-formed committee also assumes the jurisdiction of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which Lancman chaired in his previous term.

“Criminal justice reform and the civil justice reform are such an important and large topics that we don’t want things to fall through the cracks,” Lancman told QNS. “[The greater jurisdiction] gives that committee a lot of leverage to push for reform, to oversee performance and to advocate for budget issues.”

Reforming the justice system, “an important part of the progressive agenda,” starts with examining the city’s approach to combating crime and ensuring and ensuring the criminal justice system is fair, Lancman said.

”It’s our responsibility to ensure there’s a fair, equitable and transparent system,” he said. “We have the tools to make that realization happen.”

The city spent about $100 million last year to ensure people were protected in civil legal proceedings over evictions, home foreclosures, immigration and other issues.

“All of that is in the committee’s purview. We have a full agenda,” he said.

One issue that will have the new chairperson’s attention are the number of marijuana prosecution cases that are processed. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that prosecutions would decline, but in the last two years, they have not, Lancman said. These cases are often low-level possession cases and disproportionately impact young people and communities of color, he added.

Wage theft, domestic violence and opioid-related cases are also issues on Lancman’s radar. Each of New York City’s districts have their own policies on how to handle these cases, Lancman explained, but all of their funding comes from the city. The committee will explore the best practices for approaching these cases and subsequently seek to carry them out citywide.

Lancman was one of the sponsors for the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which passed the City Council in 2016. The bill decriminalizes certain low-level offenses (i.e. open container of alcohol, littering, public urination). Offenders are instead sent to civil court.

More recently, the City Council passed legislation introduced by Lancman that requires the NYPD to report on the number summons and arrests issued for subway fare evasion.

“I believe that we needlessly criminalize fare evasion in a way that really negatively impacts young people’s lives and people of color … and could potentially lead to people’s deportation,” Lancman said.

Councilmembers Andrew Cohen, Alan Maisel, Deborah Rose and fellow Queens representative Eric Ulrich also sit on the Committee on the Justice System.