District Court will be on November ballot in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 July 2023 at 7:14 am

ALBION – Orleans County’s registered voters will decide whether there will be a district court in the county. The Orleans County Legislature voted on Tuesday to put the matter as a public referendum on the Nov. 7 election.

The referendum will ask if “A Local Law to establish a District Court System in Orleans County” should be approved.

There will be a public meeting at 7 p.m. today in the legislative chambers at the County Office Building on Route 31 to discuss the district court. District Attorney Joe Cardone and Public Defender Joanne Best will go over how a district court could look in the county, and share the benefits of a district court.

Joe Fuller, an Albion town justice, also is expected to give a statement from the Orleans County Magistrates Association. Many of the local town judges have concerns about a shift to a district court, with the local justices seeing fewer cases.

Some of the town supervisors also have expressed concerns about a district court and a move away from justices elected solely within their town.

There will be at least one public hearing about a district court next month at a location and site to be announced.

The Legislature in April formed a committee to look at the potential implementation of a district court. The Legislature cited increasing complexities and frequent changes in state laws with the criminal justice system. Forming a consolidated district court could result in a more effective local court system, legislators said in authorizing the formation of a committee.

County Legislator Don Allport, R-Gaines, opposed putting the issue on the ballot. He said it’s too early to go to a public referendum.

“We should table until at least after the public hearing to hear what the towns and people think of this,” Allport said during Tuesday’s Legislature meeting. “To me this is putting the cart before the horse. It’s moving forward on this before you’ve had any public input on it.”

The other six legislators voted to put the issue on the ballot. The county has an Aug. 7 deadline to decide whether the issue will go to a public vote. The Legislature doesn’t have another meeting scheduled before Aug. 7.

Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson, R-Lyndonville, said there will be opportunities for the community to weigh in on the issue and hear and the pros and cons of a district court.

“We will have public hearings,” she said. “All we’re doing is putting it on the ballot to let the people decide.”