Attorney Jeff Fogel has been in the thick of almost every civil rights action in the city during the past decade. He sued the city for its restrictions on panhandling. He’s sued Albemarle police on behalf of plaintiffs who say they were targeted by an officer because they were black. And he’s sued Charlottesville police under the Freedom of Information Act to release stop-and-frisk records.
Now on a platform of criminal justice reform, he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney, a seat currently occupied by Dave Chapman, who says he will not seek a seventh term.
“I do this out of great concern for the criminal justice system,” said Fogel at a January 26 press conference. “We’re sending too many people to jail. It’s costing us a fortune and we’ve got too many people of color in jail.”
Citing the “incredible discretion” of the top prosecutor’s office, Fogel pledged to try to keep nonviolent people who don’t prey on others out of jail, referring them to treatment or social services when possible. He vowed to not overcharge crimes that result in felonies to get a plea bargain when they could be misdemeanors.
He said he would not prosecute marijuana possession cases and he would scrutinize all cases brought by the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force, especially those that used informants.
And he said he’d try to avoid charging anyone with an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, taking aim at the war on drugs and the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that gave states money to build more prisons if they enacted mandatory minimum sentences. “We need to reinstitute parole,” he said.
The New York-born Fogel is a graduate of Rutgers Law School. After working for the public defender’s office and as a criminal lawyer, Fogel says he felt he could do more to impact the criminal justice system as a civil rights lawyer rather than defending one client at a time.
He’s served as the executive and legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, the Center for Constitutional Rights legal director and taught at Rutgers and NYU law schools.
Fogel is a co-founder of a new political group, Equity and Progress in Charlottesville, that hopes to channel the enthusiasm from Senator Bernie Sanders’ run for president and work on income inequality and affordable housing.
“We’re a political organization but we’re not a political party,” said Fogel January 17 when the group debuted. It seems likely he’ll get EPIC’s endorsement.
Fogel is challenging Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania, who has been endorsed by Chapman and seemingly much of the legal community, which turned out for his announcement in January.
“Lawyers don’t comprise that many people,” says Fogel, undeterred by Platania’s popularity with his peers. “Joe’s been here a long time. They know and like Joe, and he has a reputation as a very decent guy with a good heart. I’m not running against Joe as a personality.”
Says Platania, “Jeff has long been a tireless advocate for his clients in civil cases and I have a great deal of respect for him. I’m pleased to see that much of Jeff’s platform is already common practice locally at the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.”
The two will square off on the ballot in the June 13 Democratic primary.
FIVE FOGEL FACTS:
- Successfully defended three prisoners charged with kidnapping in the New Jersey Rahway Prison riot in 1971, the same year as the Attica riot.
- Represented Rubin “Hurricane” Carter co-defendant John Artis, who spent 14 years in prison, in his second murder trial.
- Inspired to run for commonwealth’s attorney by Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general.
- Listed in C-VILLE’s 2015 Power Issue: “If power can be defined as the ability to give a voice to the voiceless, attorney Jeff Fogel would be yodeling at the top of the list.”
- Typically found on Monday nights speaking at City Council meetings.