It posted bail of up to $1,500 for defendants charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies who were considered to have a low risk of fleeing while their cases were pending. The project worked as a revolving fund where bail posted by the project was returned to cover other defendants' bail as people reappeared in court to have their cases decided.
Steinberg said the high percentage of people who returned to court to face adjudication of their cases showed what she said was an "enormous amount of adherence to authority" of the court.
However, in 2009, acting Bronx Supreme Court Justice Ralph Fabrizio (See Profile) effectively halted the activities of the fund. He decided in People v. Miranda, 24 Misc. 3d 1223(A), that it had not registered in a timely fashion with the state attorney general as a charitable group nor obtained a state license to operate as a "bail bond business" as required under state Insurance Law.
He ruled that the Freedom Fund Project had essentially been operating as an uninsured bail bond business.
Governor Andrew Cuomo breathed new life into the freedom fund concept when he signed A10640/S7752 into law last year, permitting the creation of not-for-profit bail organizations under state Insurance Law §6805 that are authorized to post up to $2,000 for the bail of poor defendants charged with misdemeanors (NYLJ, July 19, 2012).
The measure added oversight responsibilities of the charitable bail groups to the state Department of Financial Services after Cuomo vetoed a similar bill in 2011, complaining that it had failed to provide proper state regulatory monitoring of the organizations.
The new law restricts a charitable bail fund's activities to one county, or up to five contiguous counties if the groups are to operate in New York City.
Steinberg said the Bronx fund is gearing up to begin providing bail money again for indigent defendants once the state completes promulgating rules under the 2012 law. She said the group will probably raise its ceiling for bail to the $2,000 permitted by the statute.
Steinberg said she hopes the resuscitation of the project, plus its mention in Lippman's State of the Judiciary address, will prompt renewed interest in the concept.
"I think the city of New York could set up a bail fund," Steinberg said. "Anybody could do it: public defenders, law schools, law school clinics. There are all sorts of possibilities."