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Barre, Clarendon leaders respond to questions about court consolidation

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 24 June 2015 at 12:00 am

CLARENDON – The towns of Barre and Clarendon were unable to hold a planned public hearing on the possible consolidation of their justice courts Tuesday evening due to the Barre Town Board not making the necessary quorum.

Barre Supervisor Mark Chamberlain explained that health-related issues had kept some members from attending.

Despite the fact an official public hearing could not be held, municipal leaders decided to discuss the issue informally and answer questions from residents in attendance.

Clarendon Supervisor Richard Moy explained that an official public hearing will need to be held as part of the process. If one or both of the towns then decide against consolidation, the issue would be dead. If both town boards agree to consolidate the court, the issue would be on the November ballot for a public vote. Clarendon residents would additionally decide if the town would go from two justices to one.

Moy outlined facts regarding consolidation: Each town can retain its own court facility; Clarendon Town Justice Thomas DiFante and Barre Town Justice Richard DeCarlo would have jurisdiction in both towns; and money would stay in the town in which it was collected.

Moy also clarified figures regarding state grant money. A $12,000 matching grant would be available to each town for costs associated with the consolidation process and additional grant money would be available from the state following consolidation.

District Attorney night would be held in each town, just as it is now, Moy added.

Joe Cardone, Orleans County district attorney, attended the meeting.

“From my perspective, (consolidation) has worked well,” he said, regarding the west side of the county where the Ridgeway, Shelby, and Yates justice courts have been consolidated.

“One judge is able to handle the workload in these jurisdictions,” he said and noted that in 1992, the county had 23 municipal justices.

“I think now the number is down to 14,” Cardone said.

Besides the town court consolidation on the western end, where the three towns went from two judges to one each, the villages of Medina and Albion eliminated their courts, with towns picking up the added workload.

A Clarendon resident asked about the extent of financial savings if consolidation takes place.

“It’s not a huge amount of money,” Moy said and explained that at budget time, the town could decide to pay a single justice more, but not as much as both justices combined.

“Overall, most people will tell you there’s not great financial savings,” Cardone added. “There are some savings to the county.”

Others asked about what would happen if one of the justices needs to take a long-term leave. Cardone explained that County Court Judge James Punch would then appoint someone to serve as justice. In the case of short-term leaves, one judge would take over both courts. If a judge needs to recuse himself from a case, the case is moved to another jurisdiction.

Barre Town Justice Richard DeCarlo expressed concerns that in the future, the state might step in and change the law regarding consolidation – perhaps compelling towns to have only one court facility.

“The direction from the state has been to let local jurisdictions do what best works for them to make the court system most efficient,” Cardone responded, but explained if changes come from the state level, there would not be much the towns could do.

Clarendon Town Attorney Karl Essler said that the town boards could work together on the language of future resolutions regarding court consolidation to help protect them from any future changes which might happen at the state level.

Town of Ridgeway Court Clerk Stacy Silker attended the meeting.

“It works just fine,” she said of consolidation on the county’s west side and referenced a recent traffic ticket conflict in the Ridgeway court. “We sent it to Yates and didn’t have to take it to Judge Punch,” she said.

Clarendon and Barre will now have to determine if they can set a new date for an official public hearing, or, if because of the time-frame, need to pass another resolution first before calling for a public hearing.

Sept. 28 is the “drop dead date” for the towns to approve consolidation in order for the issue to appear on this November’s ballot, Moy said.