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Darien judge wants state to toughen underage drinking law

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Darien Town Justice Gary Graber speaks with the Albion Rotary Club on Thursday. A past president of the New York Magistrates Association, Graber said current state laws don’t give the court system power to enforce sentences for underage drinking.

GAINES – Gary Graber is the town justice in Darien. It’s a busy job, especially during the summer concert season.

He arraigns many teen-agers for underage drinking and fines them, and sentences them to community service and an alcohol awareness class.

However, about 30 percent of the offenders never show up for court.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” Graber told the Albion Rotary Club on Thursday. “There is no statutory authority to enforce the sentence.”

He is a past president of the New York Magistrates Association, a group representing 3,100 judges in the state. The association has pressed the State Legislature the past six years to approve legislation, giving the court system more authority to enforce the judges’ sentences.

But the legislation – Alcohol Beverage Control Law, 65-C – is being held up in the State Assembly, Graber said.

“It seems like a no-brainer, especially from the prevention side,” he said.

The association wants to have sentences for underage drinking to include a two-hour alcohol awareness class, a fine and community service.

Graber said the Magistrates may go directly to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seeking his help in the legislation.

“The big thing for us is the underage drinking,” Graber said.

Many communities in the state see a lot of underage drinking cases, Graber said, noting Darien, the Long Island beaches and college towns.

Graber has served as Darien justice for 34 years. He started at age 24 and only had 135 cases in 1980.

“Now it’s 15 times that,” he said.

He is on call 24-7, and does arraignments at all hours of the day. He juggles the demands of the position with his full-time job as a terminal manager for a trucking company in Buffalo.