After graduating from Rutgers School of Law in 1969, Jeff received a fellowship to work providing legal services to indigent residents in Newark, New Jersey. After several years, he left that position to become a highly touted criminal defense lawyer. Recognizing that he was limited in impact by representing one criminal defendant at a time, Jeff moved into a civil rights practice with the hope of having an impact on the criminal justice system while preserving the constitutional rights of everyone. Jeff has practiced in NJ, NY, PR and, for the last 10 years, Virginia. He has been the executive and legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey and the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights while teaching civil rights, civil liberties and trial practice at Rutgers and NYU School of Law. He has designed and conducted felony trial clinics. In 2006, he was awarded the Fanny Bear Besser Award for Public Service and has been listed as one of the 200 most distinguished graduates of Rutgers Law School. While in Virginia, Jeff has successfully litigated cases involved a panoply of issues facing the criminal justice system, including police misconduct (false arrest and excessive force), racial profiling, and the basic rights of prisoners to read, receive an education, and in one such case, the right of a blind female prisoner to receive the same educational services as sighted prisoners. He has also fought for the right of prisoners to exercise their right to religion and established the right of male prisoners in Virginia to have a short beard, a principle affirmed by the Supreme Court several years later. Jeff has written opinion pieces for the Daily Progress, appeared on numerous local programs and was identified by the c-ville in 2015 as one of the most powerful voices in Charlottesville. (“If power can be defined as the ability to give a voice to the voiceless, attorney Jeff Fogel would be yodeling at the top of the list.”).
AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
I am proud to announce my candidacy in the Democratic primary for the position of Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Charlottesville. If elected I will make significant changes in the way the criminal justice system works in Charlottesville and be an advocate for criminal justice reform.
Our criminal justice system is in need of serious repair. We, as a nation, represent 5% of the word’s population, yet we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners at an enormous cost. Moreover, this burden falls most heavily on minorities causing unnecessary suffering to individuals, to their families and to entire communities. Something is seriously amiss.
The people who commit acts of violence or prey on our community need to be punished, and an office under my leadership will do so. However, many people who are non-violent and do not prey on the community would be far better served through mental health services, substance abuse treatment or other holistic services that provide healing, opportunities to rebuild family structures and reduce the burden to taxpayers. I intend to engage in best, evidence-based, practices that will enhance public safety while ensuring the constitution is respected and that will reduce the costs of jails and prisons.
It is now a well accepted fact that incarceration rates do not equate with reductions in crime, particularly the crimes that threaten the safety of our communities. It is also well known that the cost of incarcerating more than 2,200,000 people nationwide (and more than 35,000 here in Virginia at a cost of more than one billion dollars a year), is not worth any benefit that we receive.
People generally understand that mass incarceration is neither smart nor fair. What they often don’t realize is that each component in the criminal justice system plays a role in that process. It is not just legislators who believe that being “tough” on crime is a way to get elected and to remain in office. Our prosecutors, judges, police and correction officials also contribute to the problems we face. There are many well-meaning, hardworking people who work throughout the criminal justice system but they are limited in what they can do by that very system. The Commonwealth Attorney is in a position to create structural and systemic change to a system in need of repair and I will, as well, be an advocate to the other components of that system. In other words, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem and to help light the way for others to follow.
Unfortunately, Charlottesville is a contributor to mass incarceration and to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We need to systemically examine all policies that feed mass incarceration and racial disparities. In that regard, I would establish (or change) the following policies:
1. Keep as many non-violent people out of the criminal justice system as possible by referral to social service, treatment services and other agencies;
2. To reduce as many first time felony cases to misdemeanors as possible so that people have a chance to become productive members of our community;
3. Assure that the office would be a death penalty free;
4. To argue for low or no bail for those unable to afford pre-trial bail;
5. Not to overcharge crimes in order to secure pleas bargains and to constrain the power of judges and juries to impose overly lengthy sentences;
6. Try not to charge anyone with an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence. Instead find another comparable offense to charge;
7. To carefully scrutinize all cases secured by searches to determine whether the search was legal and whether any racial element infects the process;
8. To carefully scrutinize all cases brought by our local drug task force, especially with informants:
9. To carefully review policies and practices that may increase racial disparity;
10. Not prosecuting mere possession of marijuana;
11. To have an open file policy (discovery is very restrictive in Virginia) for defense counsel.
In addition, I will convene a citizen advisory council to advise the office on policy and to give feedback on our practices. Also, as part of this campaign and thereafter, to have a community wide discussion about criminal justice, including what role Charlottesville should play in the war on drugs and the war on immigrants, as well as sentencing reform and to identify what other services need to be tapped to make our community as safe and just as possible.