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115- Washtenaw County Prosecutor Leverages Capitol Hill Wisdom to Abolish Cash Bail in His Community

115- Washtenaw County Prosecutor Leverages Capitol Hill Wisdom to Abolish Cash Bail in His Community

Eli Savit is a nationally recognized attorney, public servant, and civil rights advocate who currently serves as the Washtenaw County Prosecutor. Prior to his term, he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was a civil-rights and public-interest attorney, and also had a career as a public-school teacher. In addition to serving as Washtenaw County’s Prosecuting Attorney, Eli is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School.

Eli has been an integral part of several major, successful civil rights and environmental initiatives in Michigan and across the country, including a successful effort to have the Michigan Civil Rights Commission recognize discrimination claims against LGBTQIA+ Michiganders, and assisting New Jersey, Maryland, and Puerto Rico in their quests to hold corporate polluters responsible for waterway contamination.

In this inspiring installment of Open Mike, Eli discusses his close relationship with late Justice Ginsberg, and how her tutelage helped inform his decision to carve out a career shaped by public service. Additionally, he and Mike consider the inherent problems with the American cash bail system (one of two for-profit bail systems in the world) and reflect on Eli’s recent, successful elimination of Washtenaw County’s cash bail program!

Show Notes

[00:09] Eli Savit’s background and bio as Washtenaw County Prosecutor.

[01:26] Welcome to the show, Eli! There was a prosecutor for how many years prior to you?

[2:03] How was taking over an office from someone who had been there for twenty-eight years?

[03:46] You were born and raised in Ann Arbor, went to U of M Law School, and were clerk for two United States Supreme Court Justices, is that right? Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. That had to have been amazing — what was that like?

[06:05] The same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, wasn’t that a Michigan case?

[07:50] The way that last year went down with the former president getting that appointment… that was such a horrible way that went down, and I’m sure it was sad for Justice Ginsberg’s legacy. Do you have any opinions on that?

[10:50] After working as a clerk for two icons, you could have had any job that you wanted, ones that pay more lucratively. What was that thought process like?

[12:46] The way you chose to run your campaign, one of radical inclusivity, was really impressive. When I read that, I wondered how you were going to make everyone happy — I’ve never heard of a campaign like that! Can you take us through that?

[17:19] Let’s talk about cash bail… last year, we filmed an episode with two young ladies who are reforming the system via Bail Project Detroit… it was such an eye-opening thing for me as an attorney. You’re the first prosecutor I personally know who has eliminated cash bail. Could you explain to our viewers why you believe so strongly cash bail should be done away with?

[25:57] Entire states are now abolishing cash bail. Washington D.C. got rid of it in 1992, and New Jersey got rid of it in 2017. Crime rates in New Jersey subsequently plummeted.

[27:55] Research shows that people will still show up to court, even without cash bail as an incentive! Something like 90% of people show up to their court dates, either way. Is that what you’re finding in Washtenaw?

[30:42] After the bail situation, what are some other initiatives your office is working on?

[31:09] On the first day of his term, Prosecutor Savit banned all zero-tolerance policies in favor of adopting a more holistic, case-by-case approach to various crimes and conditions under which they occurred.

[36:00] On Open Mike, we’ve had at least ten guests who were wrongfully convicted. As a prosecutor, what does your office see as your role in helping to free innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in Washtenaw county?

[40:28] There’s a lot of discussion about blanket immunity which completely protects people from prosecution for crimes related to testimony they provide… what are your thoughts on blanket immunity for people who are bad actors in processes that result in wrongful convictions?

[43:57] We see a ton of jail house snitches and bad IDs from police misconduct… have these two areas of potential problems been examined by your office?

[47:18] Where did you teach in New York City?

[48:28] You’re doing so many amazing things in Washtenaw County, and I can’t commend you enough. I know it’s not easy, and I can’t thank you enough for your service. We’ll have you on in a year or two to touch base on all the incredible work you’ll have undoubtedly done. Thank you again for being on Open Mike!

[49:20] What a life, Eli is leading! Doing amazing things to change the criminal justice system for his constituents, and hopefully the world! Comment, like, and subscribe to Open Mike! We really appreciate you; stay tuned for new episodes coming up soon.

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