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Holyoke's Chief Scott talks judiciary reform with 16 Acres Civic Association

Date: 4/26/2010

April 26, 2010

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott brought his campaign for judiciary reform to Springfield last Tuesday when he talked public safety with members of the 16 Acres Civic Association.

Scott was the featured speaker at the group's monthly meeting, which also included an update on a recent safety study regarding the Greenleaf Center driveway, an upcoming neighborhood cleanup day and the status of the CVS construction project at the corner of Parker Street and Wilbraham Road.

His message to the audience was simple: don't blame the police if crime isn't decreasing in your neighborhood. The police are doing their jobs; they are making the arrests. Blame the judges -- all of whom have lifetime appointments in this state -- for being historically lenient in setting bail for and in the sentencing of criminals.

As he walked back and forth -- a habit he said made him "less of a target" -- Scott read from a recent letter he had written in response to a request for parole for a multi-time arrestee from Holyoke. The request arrived, he said, nine days after Holyoke police had arrested the multiple offender for the third time on a warrant for failing to appear in court to answer for his previous crimes.

His crimes included resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, breaking and entering, damage to property over $250 and intent to commit murder by hitting his girlfriend in the head with a hammer and slashing her face with a knife. The criminal in question had been released on his own recognizance in his previous two arrests. There was no request for bail by the arraigning judge.

This letter, he said, was one of "three or four" he writes each month refusing to sign off on parole requests for arrestees.

"Other people are also responsible for the safety of a community. It's not only the police," Scott said in his soft Louisiana drawl. "The DAs (district attorneys) and the judges, they too are responsible for keeping you safe. And they're not doing their job."

He told the audience that for the past "seven or eight years" he has filed an annual bill before the state legislature's constitutional convention seeking to abolish the lifetime appointment of judges in Massachusetts.

This year's bill -- his last filing because in "12 months and 11 days" from that evening he turns 65 and by state statute must retire -- is number 25.

"The police are doing their job, taking criminals off the streets," Scott said. "But as fast as they do it, the people in the black robes with exorbitant six-figure salaries are releasing them back out to plague you!"

Acknowledging that he takes a harsh black and white view of how justice should work and issuing a blanket apology to any judges or attorneys who might be in the audience, Scott went on to ask the audience why they call for police commissions to investigate the actions of officers, but there are no cries for judiciary commissions to investigate how Massachusetts judges mete out bail and sentences.

"You're not holding them accountable," Scott said. "Why don't you get mad at them, or come down to Boston with me when your legislators go into the constitutional convention [on July 29] and tell them if they don't vote to change this, you won't vote them back into office."

Citing Article five of the state constitution, Scott said that, by law, state senators, representatives and the governor are "accountable to you at all times." These public servants get a vote of confidence -- called an election -- on a regular basis.

"The one group that never has to face you, who is not accountable to you yet you pay their salary, is the judiciary," Scott said.

He also pointed out that in 47 other states in the nation, judges are "elected or appointed, and have to be reappointed every six to eight years."

"How do you change this?" Scott challenged the audience "By calling your representative, your senator and asking them to support Senate bill number 25 at the constitutional convention." He said e-mails and letters would also be an effective way to support his campaign to reform the state's judiciary.

"You can let your voices be heard when it involves a cop. Why can't you let your voices be heard when it involves a judge? They affect your quality of life," Scott said.

Scott closed by saying Springfield Police Commissioner William Fitchet was doing a commendable job in his efforts to control crime in the city.

He also agreed to disagree with an attorney in the audience who stood and challenged Scott's views on the judiciary, saying Scott was exaggerating what goes on in Western Massachusetts courtrooms, that he had seen high bails and stiff sentences meted out in local court.

The two men shook hands at the close of Scott's remarks

Following Scott's speech, 16 Acres Civic Association President and City Counselor Clodo Concepcion announced that there would be a groundbreaking for the new CVS at 1:30 p.m. on May 4. He also said the association was looking for volunteers to participate in a community-wide cleanup day on May 1.

In other business, he told Reminder Publications that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission conducted a study regarding the safety of the driveway at the Greenleaf Center/16 Acres Public Library following a fatal accident at that site earlier this year. Concepcion said the commission's recommendations, which include installing a light at the site, are now under review by a city engineer.