She was East Hampton Town Justice Court’s woman of mystery. For the past several months, she would sit in the same seat in the courtroom every Wednesday and Thursday, the days vehicle and traffic law matters, and criminal matters are calendared, respectively, taking copious notes on yellow legal pads.
She is a mystery no more. Jacquelyn Gavron is a volunteer court observer for Organización Latino-Americana, covering both the courts of Justice Lisa Rana and Justice Steven Tekulsky.
“I’m gathering information so that we can educate people on the legal process,” Gavron said. She said she recently moved to East Hampton as a year-round resident, and has always been politically active. Her work in court for OLA helps her feel connected to the community. “I think this the most important thing that I have done.”
The goal, Gavron said, is to reduce the fear factor for undocumented residents, so that they can go to court to answer to local charges.
New York State’s Office of Court Administration ruled last month that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents cannot make arrests in state courthouses, unless they have a warrant to do so from a federal judge.
According to Andrew Strong, OLA’s attorney on the East End, “The goal is to try and build a picture of what is happening in court.” Volunteers are also observing proceedings in Southampton Town Justice Court. Strong said OLA would like to have observers in court houses across the East End, such as in Riverhead, Southold, or Shelter Island, but lack the manpower to do so.
Strong was asked if he thought there might be any perceived ethical conflict for OLA having an observer in Rana’s courtroom, since he is currently running for her position as East Hampton Town Justice, and, at the same time, represents OLA. Rana is seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party for her fifth four-year term on the bench. She already has the backing of the Republican Party.
Strong said that he did make a preliminary inquiry with the campaign ethics committee, with an initial finding that there is no apparent conflict, but is waiting for a final letter of determination on the question, which should come this week. Unlike other candidates, those running for the position of judge are strictly limited as to what they can say and do by the committee.
Justice Rana was asked for her reaction. “I welcome people to come in to see what is happening in our court, and to the extent that it applies, in our community,” she responded.