CATSKILL — Following in the footsteps of Coxsackie, the village of Catskill will be doing away with its court.
The merger with Catskill Town Court is not expected to take place until March 2021. A number of factors led to the consolidation, Village President Vincent Seeley said.
“With the sad passing of the Honorable Justice [William] Wootton, we were put in a unique position in that Judge Wootton held both the town and village justice positions,” Seeley said. “He was actually a catalyst in this process in regards to synchronizing and building best practices in each court.”
Wootton died in September at St. Peter’s Hospital, according to his obituary. He was 74.
The first step in consolidation is to abolish the second judge position in March, Seeley said.
Although the objective of consolidation is not to save money, merging the courts will be cost effective, Seeley said.
“The current court is run well and the judges and clerks should be commended on their success with limited resources,” he said. “The savings would be minor when relating it to the over $7 million budget we have for the entire village.”
Catskill Town Supervisor Dale Finch said he believes consolidation is a worthwhile endeavor.
“It is not a bad idea to investigate what the tax savings would be,” he said.
The town would review the village court’s operations for the past five years to ensure the new court system is appropriately sized, Finch said.
“It could end up being a win-win,” Finch said.
The state Comptroller’s Office recommends the consolidation of courts as way for municipalities to save money.
“For some towns and villages, maintaining a justice court may pose administrative and financial challenges,” according to osc.state.ny.us. “Because the financing of justice courts is a local responsibility, there is growing interest by citizens and local governments in exploring consolidation of justice courts where practicable.”
Benefits of consolidation include maximizing services by pooling resources, streamlining the court system by centralizing services and providing more qualified judges by increasing competition, according to osc.state.ny.us
Another reason the village is seeking to merge the courts is the state criminal justice reforms, which went into effect Jan. 1.
“[The reform] has brought additional unfunded mandates to our court and police department,” Seeley said. “The headwinds of those mandates are going to be to hard to accomplish alone.”
The new discovery law, which requires all evidence to be turned over to the defense within 15 days, increases the demands on law enforcement and laboratories that handle the evidence, as well as the prosecution.
For defendants that are eligible to be released without bail, the courts have to send out several notices to them before warrants can be issued for their arrest, if they do not appear in court.
New bail options are also available that are paid directly to the court instead of to bond insurance companies.
A partially secured bond allows a defendant to pay 10% or less of the bail upfront, with the remaining balance only being paid if the defendant skips court. For unsecured bonds, there is no upfront payment and payment is only required if they do not return to court, according to courtinnovation.org
Overall, Seeley said, merging the courts is a no-brainer.
“It is the right thing to do from a business sense,” Seeley said. “Consolidating duplicative services appropriately between our municipalities needs to be reviewed.”
To dissolve the village court, the village board of trustees must abolish the office of village justice by local law or resolution, subject to a public referendum, according to osc.state.ny.us.
The village will continue to be entitled to fines resulting from dog control violations and violations of village local laws, aside from speeding, and the local share of the surcharge collected on handicapped parking violations.
The village will no longer collect fines from violations of state vehicle and traffic law and criminal offenses.