Dave Clegg, the longtime Kingston attorney and former NY-19 congressional candidate, announced his candidacy for Ulster County’s criminal prosecutor in an exclusive interview Thursday.
Over the 45-minute interview, Clegg talked about how he would recommend lower bail, work on rehabilitating drug addicts, engage the DA’s office with the local community, and laid out his stances on low-level pot crimes and transparency after police-involved shootings.
Clegg will be up against Republican incumbent Holley Carnright.
District attorneys have great power over the criminal justice system. If elected, Clegg would be the prosecutor for all criminal trials in the county, as well as choosing what crimes to prosecute and who to indict; would negotiate all plea deals and recommend sentences and bail amounts; and would be able set law enforcement policy within Ulster County.
Turning the Corner
Clegg said progress was being made in altering the criminal justice system from one that punishes to one that rehabilitates, but wanted to “turn that corner.”
“I think this is a moment in time when we can move the dial forward on all these progressive issues,” he said.
The Ulster County criminal justice system should do everything to rehabilitate opioid addicts, Clegg said, who wanted to work with newly elected Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa on the issue, part of a holistic approach to public safety that would benefit both the addicts and the well-being of the county as a whole.
“Let’s give them every chance, and let’s give them another chance,” he said of the addicted
Working as a part-time public defender in the county during the crack epidemic of the 1980s informed this stance, Clegg said, a time when addiction, prostitution and AIDS consumed the area.
He questioned why crack addicts weren’t being provided resources to recover.
“You get to know them, you talked to them, they’re human beings, they’re coming from some place that got them into this for whatever reason…once they’re on it, it’s so hard to get them off it, and it takes a lot of work,” he said.
Clegg mentions “restorative justice” several times, where punishments are based on making amends to victims and improving communities, as opposed to simply jailing wrong-doers. As chair of the Ulster County Human Rights Commission, Clegg was part of forums on the issue.
Who are ‘The Bad Guys’?
Dave Clegg made a division in his remarks between those needing rehabilitation and the “bad guys,” which he would work diligently to prosecute and incarcerate, so I asked him what side heroin dealers fell on.
Cases needed to be examined individually, Clegg said, with distinctions made between addicts feeding their addictions with drug sales and those doing it for the money.
Even if a dealer is addicted, sales over a certain level go beyond feeding a dealer’s habit, Clegg said, and the distinction lies on “whether the sale was related specifically to his addiction – is he managing his addiction by selling some drugs, or is he selling a certain quantity of drugs to make money and to be a criminal and to spread this devastating problem to people who otherwise would not [encounter] it?”
The latter type of dealers needs to know they will be punished, Clegg said.
“Deterrence is part of what we do,” he added.
A major point for Clegg is bail amounts, something he would be able to influence as DA by making bail recommendations to presiding judges, recommendations judges often take.
“It doesn’t make any sense” to set bail for those charged with misdemeanors, who should instead be let go with appearance tickets, Clegg said, “unless somebody is a public safety risk.”
Misdemeanors include possession of small amounts of hard drugs, assaults resulting in minor injuries, drunken driving, shoplifting and groping.
If elected, Clegg would not prosecute “low-level marijuana offenses.”
There would be a level where Clegg would still prosecute marijuana crimes “where it’s clearly for mass sale and you’d become a drug dealer, not just a low-level guy selling some pot on occasion, (someone who) grows a little bit in your back yard.”
When asked if he would prosecute someone caught with an ounce of marijuana, a misdemeanor carrying the maximum of a year in jail, Clegg said he would not.
Police Shootings & Racial Justice
When asked about shootings by police, Clegg said, “the public has a right to information” and the name of the officer involved should be released “in most circumstances.”
Some police departments do not release the names of officers involved in shootings, such as in Jackson, Mississippi, where no officers were named in seven shootings since July 2017, according to the Jackson Free Press. The officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was only named after a week of protests.
Police shootings should be investigated by an independent body removed from the Ulster County criminal justice system if there is a question if the shooting was legitimate, Clegg said.
District Attorneys investigating police shootings often come under fire for their relationship with the police, something Clegg said put DAs in “a natural ethical bind.”
“When someone comes in here and wants to sue someone I know, I tell them we attorneys have to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” he said. “I think the DA should err on the side of independent investigation into what’s going on if, as I say, there is a close relationship – as there normally is.”
As for racial justice, Clegg said his experience as a public defender showed him “race plays a part…in terms of who gets picked up, who gets stopped and frisked – you have disproportionality there.”
Police and prosecutors should always consider if their implicit biases are influencing their decisions, and both should attend training on the issue, Clegg said.
Community policing should not only be pursued by police, but by members of the DAs office, Clegg said, an important tool in keeping youth away from crime and gangs.
“You want to get out in the community so there’s an opportunity to see law enforcement isn’t some ivory tower with someone sitting up there and putting people in jail,” he said.
It was important to intervene with youth at risk for gang recruitment, Clegg said, and he was in a good position to do so with his long history of community involvement.
Clegg’s run for Congress, where he placed sixth in a field of seven, informed his run for DA, he said.
“I think the fact that I spent all that time meeting folks and talking about all these issues – restorative justice, mass incarceration, concerns about equal justice in our community, racial justice…when people came up and asked if I would do this, that was part of what they were saying…you have the opportunity to do those things, on the local level as DA.”
Dave Clegg has been an attorney in Kingston since 1981, representing criminal defendants both privately and as a public defender, and undertaking personal injury, civil rights, medical malpractice and product liability cases. He represented East Kingston residents in a class-action lawsuit against the Hudson Cement Company in the 1980s for polluting the factory town with toxic dust.
Clegg has been involved in a host of community organizations and charitable causes, including helping found Ulster County Habitat for Humanity, being part of the creation of Kingston’s Darmstadt Shelter in the 1980s, and teaching classes at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility.
As well as receiving his law degree from SUNY Buffalo, Clegg attended Yale Divinity School in 2007 and has served as a deacon at St. James United Methodist Church in Kingston for a decade.
Afterword: The ‘Bad Guys.’
When Clegg said he was in favor of rehabilitation for opioid addicts, but still wanted to put away ‘the bad guys,’ I pressed him…[ppp_patron_only level=”9″ silent=”no”]
What the distinction between the two? I did this by asking him about heroin dealers – who both of us knew were often addicts themselves, selling to feed their habit. He made a good distinction – that those primarily selling to feed their habit needed rehabilitation, but those selling for money (even if they were addicted on the side), were not.
You have to be a real piece of shit to sell heroin sans addiction, and you probably SHOULD be in prison. You might well be ‘a bad guy.’ Now, you are probably also might be a bad guy (or girl…a little annoying Clegg used a term only including dudes) deserving prison if you are a corrupt doctor writing Oxycontin prescriptions for cash ____. I’m going to say you’re a much worse than an unaddicted heroin dealer, because someone with a medical degree can make money by, y’know, being a doctor, an option someone flipping heroin does not have. It’s pure greed.
Corrupt doctors and unaddicted heroin dealers are worse than someone who flies off the handle and murders someone, because these people have made a series of calm decisions to do wrong in the world, whereas the murder has simply reacted in the heat of the moment.
Is the murder ‘a bad guy?’ What if they were a good person up to this point in their life? Can you define their entire moral existence by one aberrational moment?
That’s my problem with the term. It views humanity as bicameral, a binary system of good and evil. It’s incredibly simplistic.
If anyone uses the term ‘bad guy,’ it’s cops, the guys (or girls) on the ground level of crime, and this philosophy jets up the echelons of the system until candidates for DA use it.
There are no bad guys; there are no good guys. Humanity isn’t that simple, and the criminal justice system needs to realize that.
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