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Municipal Courts Task Force Report Presented

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Municipal Courts Task Force Report Presented

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Legislature received a briefing on results of a more than year-long intensive study of the county’s municipal court system by the Municipal Courts Task Force from Task Force Chair Ray Schlather. The Task Force was charged in 2015 by the Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) with reviewing “the current structure and operations of the municipal court system for the purpose of identifying potential ways and means to sustain and improve efficiency of operations and quality of justice provided by town and village courts.”

The Task Force’s most significant recommendation, as identified in its report, is the consolidation of all misdemeanor and violation level Driving While Intoxicated cases (including Driving While Impaired by Drugs) into a single countywide part of State Supreme Court, a recommendation that received consensus support from members of the Task Force. Mr. Schlather said that the change would help address a significant burden on the town and village courts, as well as some unevenness in the quality of justice. He advised Legislators, however, that it will require some “political muscle” to convince the State Office of Court Administration of the need for a third County Court Judge, in terms of current population, to enable such a system to go forward. Among the many other elements identified that could help shrink the demand and help improve the functioning of the local courts would be establishment of a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, a countywide Youth Court, and centralized after-hours arraignment. Mr. Schlather noted that both Senate and Assembly have passed enabling legislation to permit centralized arraignment, which is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Regarding what’s next, Legislature Chair Michael Lane said that the County would first need a request from TCCOG to move forward, on actions such as initiating the conversation with the Office of Court Administration. Legislative consideration would then proceed through the Legislature committee structure, most likely beginning with Public Safety. Both Chair Lane and County Administrator Joe Mareane commended the Task Force for its expert and dedicated work over many months, Chair. Lane saying to Mr. Schlather, “We would not have gotten this far without your leadership.”

Read the full Municipal Courts Task Force report, posted on the County website at