Bench Press

Nat Hentoff demonstrated a profound ignorance of the criminal justice system in New York with his attack on criminal court judge Martin Murphy ["Giuliani Justice," March 14].

It is ironic that an attack against the Giuliani crime policies should find such an inappropriate target. Judge Murphy is known around the court system as arguably the fairest judge.

The Times article which spawned Hentoff's column focused on a night-arraignment shift. An arraignment judge does not conduct trials or make determinations of guilt or innocence. An arraignment judge makes bail decisions and hands down sentences to clients who wish to plead guilty at this initial court appearance rather than return to court repeatedly to fight the charges.

Judge Murphy has ameliorated much of the damage caused by the wave of "quality of life" arrests by consistently offering time served or community service sentences to the overwhelmingly poor and minority clients who do not belong in jail for such petty offenses. The fact that Judge Murphy is so competent and efficient at his job that he can move a high volume of cases through arraignments is a great benefit to the people I represent.

As a public defender, it is incomprehensible to me that Hentoff would complain of illegal detention of a suspect for more than 24 hours when Judge Murphy does more than anyone to unclog the system. He is an independent-thinking judge who does not view his role as assisting the prosecution in carrying out Giuliani policies. The time-served pleas he offers are usually made over the objection of a prosecutor who recommends a longer jail sentence. Moreover, Judge Murphy can be counted on to make fair bail determinations when clients choose not to plead guilty, and frequently releases people in opposition to a prosecutor's bail request. If Hentoff would talk to lawyers in the trenches representing indigent clients, he would learn that Judge Murphy is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Charles Castellon

Nat Hentoff replies: For more than 40 years, I've watched arraignments in the New York City courts, most recently a few weeks ago. Truly conscientious judges don't give less than a minute to approve a plea. They know they're deciding future lives. They question the defendant, sometimes repeatedly, to make sure he or she understands the nature of the plea. Some defendants have language difficulties. I've also watched overburdened defense attorneys who met only briefly with a defendant before arraignment and didn't sufficiently explain the alternatives to the plea being offered. And for Mr. Castellon to say no more about the illegal incarceration of scores of suspects in the system as a whole for more than 24 hours—except to defend this judge—is a powerful further indictment of this city's alleged justice system.

Low Sierra

Stuart Auchincloss says [Letters, March 14] that environmentally minded New Yorkers are against "being distracted by factionalism" within the Sierra Club. Days after expressing that noble sentiment, Mr. Auchincloss presided at an Atlantic Chapter meeting that ousted more than a dozen longtime activists from Sierra Club offices to which we had been duly elected. I and many of the other targets were not even charged with any wrongdoing. It was a simple political power play.

The last Auchincloss purge was, as Karen Cook reported in the Voice ["Eco Action," February 22], set aside by the New York State Supreme Court. (The new one will be challenged as well.) We urged the chapter to address Mr. Auchincloss's rules violation under the same standards as were being applied to the New York City Group. The chapter rejected our proposal. The double standard is a stark example of the hypocrisy and, yes, factionalism that are undermining the Sierra Club's environmental work in New York.

Jim Lane
Former Chair
Sierra Club, New York City Group

Chart Buster

Without debating the handsomeness of Joan Jett's concentration camp 'do, I must take exception to Georgia Christgau's assertion that the I Love Rock 'n' Roll album "entered the charts at number one and stayed there for eight weeks" ["Freedom Act," March 28].

Only in the land of wishful thinking. The single of the same name did top the chart, but Billboard never counted the album higher than number two, where it spent three weeks.

Ira Robbins


I was surprised to see Michael Musto's column in your March 21 issue about the drag magician, Miss Brandall. And I thought I was the only one!

I have performed in Las Vegas, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Although I now generally work for straight showrooms, I did 14 years of comedy clubs, nightclubs, and gay bars—touring the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with my own full-illusion show.

I call myself a comedy magician who just happens to wear a dress.

Steve Daly
Nelspruit, South Africa
a/k/a "Bonnie Bitch" (for gay audiences)
"Tiny Bubbles" (for straight showrooms)
Las Vegas, Nevada

Out an About

While I very much enjoyed Wista Jeanne Johnson's article "Walk on the Mild Side" [March 21] about New York City's hiking and walking clubs, I was surprised to see no mention of the Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society, the gay and lesbian outdoor club that will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year with a spectacular jamboree in September.

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