Long Island judge ignores bail law, refuses release of ‘menace to society’
A Long Island judge intentionally ignored the state’s controversial bail-reform law and refused to release a “menace to society” accused of robbing two banks while awaiting sentencing in federal court, The Post has learned.
But the principled stand taken by Nassau County District Court Judge David McAndrews was short-lived, as a higher-level judge promptly reversed his order and released Romell Nellis with an ankle monitor — only to have him cut it off and disappear.
Nellis, 40, was busted Jan. 8 in a pair of bank heists in which he allegedly gave tellers notes that threatened, “I have a gun!” and demanded “$100s, 50s & 20s.”
The homeless ex-con made off with a total haul of nearly $9,500 from the capers in West Hempstead and Valley Stream, which took place on Dec. 17 and 30, respectively, court papers allege.
At the time of the robberies, Nellis was facing sentencing in Central Islip federal court after admitting that he violated his supervised release in a crack-trafficking case from 2012, for which he served a seven-year prison term.
He was initially scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16, but his court-appointed lawyer got the proceeding postponed until March 24 because Nellis was “scheduled to enter into an in-patient drug treatment program,” court records show.
When Nellis was hauled in front of McAndrews one day after his arrest in the bank jobs, the judge acknowledged the fact that the third-degree robbery charges were covered by the law that went into effect on Jan. 1.
It mandates the release without bail of most defendants charged with misdemeanors or non-violent felonies.
Nonetheless, McAndrews ordered that Nellis be locked up unless he posted $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.
“Although under [Section] 510.10, this does not qualify as a bondable or bail offense, I find this defendant to be a menace to society,” Andrews said.
When Legal Aid lawyer Diane Clarke argued that “there are no allegations there was an actual gun used,” McAndrews — a Republican who’s served on the bench since 2010 — rejected that argument without apology.
“I don’t want you walking around my neighborhood,” the judge told Nellis.
Clarke appealed McAndrews’ move to Nassau County Judge Christopher Quinn, who followed the law and issued an order that released Nellis without bail pending his fitting with a GPS tracking device and another court appearance on Jan. 13, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office said.
But while Nellis was outfitted with the gadget, he failed to show up in court or at a follow-up hearing Jan. 15, when prosecutor Jed Painter said that “we received a strap notification that he cut off his bracelet two days ago,” according to an official transcript.
State Supreme Court Justice Meryl Berkowitz issued a warrant for Nellis’ arrest, but he’s still on the lam, according to cops.
“He’s out there, somewhere, able to commit another crime,” Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said.
“It’s insane, when you think who we’re letting out of jail. It has nothing to do with justice reform.”
Ryder added: “We’re not protecting the victims and we’ve swung the pendulum way too far.”
McAndrews wouldn’t discuss Nellis’ case, but smiled before telling The Post, “You know I can’t comment.”
Nellis’ federal defense lawyer, Jeffrey Pittell, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Kevin Sheehan and Bruce Golding
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