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New York Judge Reverses Himself In Drug Case

[Judge Harold Baer Jr.]

NEW YORK (Time Daily, April 2) -- The political and media pressure may have been too much for Judge Harold Baer Jr., who reversed himself Tuesday on a controversial decision to exclude 75 pounds of cocaine evidence from an accused drug courier's trial.

Following repeated criticism and attacks from local politicians, national Republican leaders and even President Bill Clinton, Baer had reopened a hearing in the trial of Carol Bayless, a 41-year-old confessed drug runner from Detroit.

After inviting new testimony, he reversed his January decision to throw out a videotaped confession from Bayless as well as the $4 million in drugs seized at her arrest. Last April, two New York City police officers said they had observed Bayless double-park her car in the Washington Heights neighborhood. They say four men dropped two large duffel bags in the trunk, then fled when they caught sight of the police. The officers pulled Bayless over, searched her car and found the cocaine and 4 1/2 pounds of heroin.

In an initial ruling that set off a national debate over what constitutes "unreasonable search and seizure," the judge said it was not unusual for citizens to run from the police in Washington Heights, where he said police are viewed as "corrupt, abusive and violent." Soon after, a top Clinton aide suggested that Baer should resign if he did not change the decision.

"It is unheard of for a president to ask or suggest that a judge should resign," says TIME's Elaine Rivera. "This was an unusual ruling in the first place. It is an extraordinary reversal by a judge under extraordinary pressure, and it raises questions about whether an independent judiciary can withstand political and media pressure." If Baer had not reversed the ruling, Rivera adds, "it could have been a political vulnerability for Clinton. Both Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich would have used it to attack Clinton for appointing liberal judges who are not tough on crime."

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