Bronx Judge Who Pioneered Incarceration Alternatives Content on the Bench, Source Says

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By David Brand and Paula Katinas

A Bronx Criminal Court Judge with Queens connections is the latest leader to reportedly consider a run for Queens District Attorney in 2019, but a source familiar with the courthouse said he is content on the bench.

The New York Law Journal reported that George Grasso, the supervising judge of the Bronx Criminal Court, has begun to consider his prospects.

The report cited an unnamed source familiar with the “Queens political scene.” But another source told the Eagle that the report was just a rumor.

Office of Court Administration spokesperson Lucian Chalfen declined to speculate on Grasso’s future plans.

“Any discussion regarding Judge Grasso and a campaign for Queens County District Attorney is premature,” Chalfen told the Eagle. “Along with being focused on supervising the Criminal Court in the Bronx, Judge Grasso is the point person in the expansion of the highly successful opioid avoidance and recovery part he pioneered in the Bronx.”

Grasso helped to establish the Opioid Avoidance and Recovery (OAR) program, which seeks to give defendants charged with low-level, non-violent drug offenses the chance to avoid prison time if they agree to go into rehab. 

If the defendant completes the program, the criminal case against them is dismissed.

The initials OAR are no accident, Grasso said.

“It’s like you’re grabbing an oar,” he said. “I tell them ‘The prosecutor is just as interested as the defense attorney to see your case dismissed.’”

The Law Journal reported that Grasso has met with the law firm of Sweeney, Reich & Bolz to discuss his potential candidacy. Grasso lives in Queens.

The Bronx criminal court did not respond to request for comment from the Eagle.

In 2012, he was appointed to serve as Supervising Judge for Arraignments for all of New York City. Over the years, he has reduced the backlog of cases, worked to speed up arraignments and has introduced a new type of alternative sentencing for low level drug suspects.

Grasso also worked as a beat cop while studying law. He rose to the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs with the NYPD.

“It’s been a wonderful road for me,” he told the Queens Daily Eagle during an interview in his chambers in June.

In 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed to a five-year term as judge. Mayor Bill de Blasio re-appointed him to a ten-year term in 2015. In June of 2016, Grasso was appointed as the Supervising Judge of the Criminal Court in Bronx.

His first order of business was reducing the backlog of cases by coordinating with police officers and other stakeholders.

“My goal was to get out of the blame game,” he said. “You have to collaborate. You have to approach problems with humility.”

As vice chair of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Behavioral Task Force, Grasso oversees a supervised release program to give defendants who cannot afford bail a chance to avoid jail.

“We took money out of the equation and put the defendant’s credibility on the line,” he said.

Queens Criminal Court Justice Gregory Lasak, the former head of the District Attorney’s homicide bureau, will resign effective Sept. 14 and sources familiar with courthouse proceedings say he will consider declaring his candidacy for DA.

Council Member Rory Lancman is considering declaring his candidacy for DA and has raised nearly $800,000 for an undisclosed campaign. Borough President Melinda Katz and State Sen. Michael Gianaris have also reportedly considered a run for DA.

Bronx County Criminal Court Supervising Judge George Grasso. // Eagle Photo by Paula Katinas