While Rotterdam town officials insist they need another court justice, but both town judges have a difference of opinion.
Justices Kenneth Litz and James Bradshaw said the town has no need for a third justice, but the Town Board on Wednesday evening voted to seek approval from the state to add one.
Town officials claim a third judge is needed to handle the increased caseload the courts are seeing.
“The town of Rotterdam has identified the need for a third town judge in order to address high case volume and better serve residents,” said an emailed statement sent Thursday by the town’s public relations firm, The Martin Group. “A third judge will offset that volume, reduce waiting time and streamline court proceedings, lessening the impact on town resources.” The release attributed the comments to town officials, without specifying which ones.
Litz said the caseload has increased over the years, but there’s no backlog even with COVID causing courts to still operate virtually in many instances. Bradshaw said paperwork has increase but because of bail reform and COVID they aren’t actually seeing as many people in person in court.
He said the best action the board can take to help the Town Court system is to hire a fifth full-time clerk. A fifth clerk retired in 2020, but came back part-time. He said the town has not added the position back to full time.
“We could really use five and a half [clerks] but we made five work,” Litz said.
The clerks are in charge of almost everything in the office – scheduling appearances, filing notes, answering the phone and staying in contact with various local and state agencies.
“They are invaluable to us,” Litz said.
During the meeting, Deputy Supervisor Evan Christou said he supports hiring a fifth clerk and Supervisor Steven Tommasone did not support the creation of another judge, but did support the hiring of a full-time clerk.
Town officials said they are still looking into whether to hire another full time clerk.
During Wednesday evening’s meeting Town Board member Stephen Signore said an October 2019 email from Litz asked for a significant increase in salary for the judges based upon their volume of cases. They did not receive the raise. Signore said instead of an increase in judge’s pay the money could be used for a third judge.
The judges make around $39,000 and the new justice would receive the same. The town clerks make anywhere from $40,000 to $52,000.
Bradshaw said they have no problem handling the volume of work, they just want to be compensated fairly for it.
Bradshaw said he wishes Town Board members would actually speak with him and Litz about what’s going on in court. He said he’s heard nothing from in regard to a third judge.
At the meeting an unnamed resident questioned why the town is just now looking at this now.
Resident and former board member Robert Godlewski said in an email after the meeting he believes the board wanted the additional judge because two of the board members, who are attorneys, would look to fill the position at some point in the future.
Signore, who is also the county public defender, said he’s not looking to leave his job anytime soon.
“I got a pretty good gig going here,” Signore said about his county position.
Board member Samantha Miller-Herrera, who practices family law, said she’s not planning on becoming a judge any time soon either.
“Definitely not!” she said in an emailed statement. “With four young children at home and my husband’s Air National Guard commitment, which sometimes includes deployments to Antarctica and Greenland, I would not be able to take on a position that requires weekly night court and after-hours arraignments.”
The judges hear cases on Mondays and Thursdays at 3 p.m.
In order to get a new judge the request must be approved by the state Senate and Assembly and signed by the governor. The decision would then be put to a permissive referendum. The judge’s position would be elected.