March 16, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A Queens judge dismissed nearly 700 open prostitution cases at the request of District Attorney Melinda Katz Tuesday morning.
Queens Acting Supreme Court Justice Toko Serita granted Katz’s request to vacate the open warrants and dismiss the cases pertaining to people who have been charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and other prostitution-related charges.
More than 200 cases involved the now-repealed loitering statute, which had come to be known as the “Walking While Trans” ban. An additional 443 cases had been for other prostitution-related charges. Some of the cases go back decades, Katz said.
Katz, at a virtual hearing this morning, also asked Judge Serita to seal the cases – so that those charged would not have criminal records related to the cases.
Judge Serita thanked Katz for making the request and called it a “righteous decision.”
“This is an incredibly emotional moment for me as I have seen thousands of cases over the years in my role as the presiding judge of the Queens Trafficking Intervention Court,” she said.
Judge Serita noted that many of those charged had been victims of trafficking and exploited in the commercial sex trade. She added that the laws have stigmatized those charged and prevented them from leading full and rewarding lives.
“This is something we recognize that you did not need to do but did so because it was the right thing to do,” the judge told Katz.
Several defense attorneys appeared at the virtual hearing and waived their clients’ appearances.
Last month, state officials repealed Penal Law 240.37, which had prohibited loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Enforcement of the “Walking While Trans” ban had disproportionately targeted transgender women of color, lawmakers said.
Even before becoming the district attorney, Katz had advocated for its repeal. Once she became district attorney, Katz stopped prosecuting people under the law.
On Tuesday, she said the law “punished members of our community for their gender and their appearance as much as it penalized any conduct that they were alleged to have engaged in.”
“The statute adversely impacted members of our community who were in many instances already victimized and already exploited,” she said.
The DA said the legislature’s repeal of the statute last month was the first step in the “ongoing commitment to justice.”
The next step was “freeing targeted members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests,” Katz said. That was addressed today.