ROTTERDAM – The governor signed into law a home-rule resolution giving this town of about 30,000 residents the ability to add a third justice, according to a Town Board member.
Town Board member Steve Signore, a catalyst for the request, said he was notified by a member of Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s staff Monday night.
Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-46th District, co-sponsored the legislation.
The resolution modifies a rule for towns with populations below 50,000 to only get two judges, while communities with 50,000 and above get three judges.
Signore, a public defender, said the law doesn’t automatically create a third judge position. The town simply asked the governor to approve the ability for it to create a third justice position in Rotterdam, when and if the need arises.
Whether it needs a third judge has been up for debate.
Signore said a third justice could have the effect of reducing the two other justice’s caseloads up to 30%.
But Justices Kenneth Litz and James Bradshaw said during a meeting last month that the town had no need for a third justice.
Litz had 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.
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.
During the same meeting, Deputy Supervisor Evan Christou said he supported 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.
According to Signore, the topic of the justices’ caseloads has been discussed for years, but he said he was moved to finally press the proposal after a 2020 budget request from the two judges, citing how much revenue their cases generated, asked for their salaries to be increase from $39,000 to $60,000.
Signore said that he was concerned about the $21,000 raises and their accompanying increases in fringe benefits.
Signore said it was akin to a popular pizza restaurant with two pizza makers demanding nearly 50% raises because of their workloads and the money they generate for the business.
The owner would likely use the extra income to hire a third pizza maker, instead, Signore said.
“Tell our judges to stop complaining about the caseload, and stop asking for outrageous raises, if they don’t want a third judge,” he said.
Signore noted that as the town considers moving operations to the former Kmart in Rotterdam, it’s a good time to plan and design a third judge’s chambers.
“The idea being is, the numbers are growing in the town, and your numbers are increasing in the cases that you have to handle, from simple vehicle and traffic cases, to misdemeanors to felonies, whatever the case may be,” he said.
“Even if you don’t want to do it in my career,” Signore said, adding he has no aspirations to run for a justice. “Look four years down the road, look eight years down the road. At least create the blueprint for the ability to have it.”