If there’s one thing Princetown Justice Michelle Van Woeart and the administration of Supervisor Michael Joyce can agree on, it’s that they seldom agree on anything.
The town’s lone justice claims Joyce is putting her and others at risk by reducing her court’s security detail to one Schenectady County sheriff’s deputy. But Joyce says the court has seen a decline in cases in recent years and that the town simply can’t justify paying two deputies time-and-a-half pay to stand around on days when the docket isn’t busy.
Van Woeart says she’s canceled two criminal court sessions out of concern of possible security breaches with just one deputy assigned to the detail. She questions why her security detail was abruptly cut last month, when the funding already exists in the town’s operating budget.
“At whose expense is this coming?” she asked of the change. “And they didn’t even let me know they were going to do this, either.”
Joyce argues that the hardened criminals that do come into the court from the Schenectady County Jail are always accompanied by two deputies, meaning the one security guard is plenty for other situations in a small rural town. He said he asked Van Woeart to halve her budget earlier this year and the cut to her court security — a budget item running $22,500 annually — is aimed at achieving that end.
“That’s high for the smallest town in Schenectady County,” he said of the cost.
At this point, the only thing clear is that the town will lose its single deputy come December and will need to seek another option for security.
Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said the county Sheriffs Benevolent Association complained to him last month about the safety of having just one deputy on hand and that he decided to pull the detail altogether.
“I have some difficulties with it as well,” he said of sending only one deputy.
The court was initially assigned one deputy when the Schenectady County Legislature approved a resolution allowing the deputies to serve as Princetown’s security in April 2008. Under the deal, the town agreed to pay the cost based on a four-hour minimum at the overtime rate, which was estimated to cost about $200 per week.
Joyce said he has no problem paying one deputy or amending the agreement to pay the county a regular hourly rate. And if a deal can’t be worked out with the county, he believes a cheaper solution is available through the state Office of Court Administration, which provides security for other towns in the area, such as neighboring Duanesburg. “For speeding tickets and parking tickets, I can’t see needing two guards in there,” he said.
The debate over the court’s security detail is the latest in line of spats between Van Woeart and Joyce — one that developed just as another was resolving. Last month, the state Division of Human Rights dismissed a claim the justice made against the town and Joyce alleging she faced unlawful discrimination because of her sex.
In specific, Van Woeart accused Joyce of reducing her budget, while not targeting other departments that are headed by men. She also argued Joyce and his allies demeaned her at town meetings, shared confidential documents about her with the media, dismissed her from a position serving as her own court clerk and then tried to deny her benefits — acts all rooted in gender discrimination.
The state, however, found “insufficient evidence” to back Van Woeart’s claims. Instead, the division’s regional director determined the town’s budgeting for the court was “associated with its overall goal to reduce operational costs” and that the decision to remove her from the court clerk’s position was based on an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office.
The town also resolved two other discrimination complaints filed by Town Clerk Carol McClaine and Rebecca Selee, Van Woeart’s lone court clerk. Joyce said McClaine’s case was resolved by the town reviewing several policies and allowing her to present her case for a larger salary; Selee’s case was settled after the town agreed to give her a pay boost next year if she completes training to handle a greater range of duties in the court.
Van Woeart didn’t have a comment about the decision in her case, but was critical of the town for sending a release about it to local media outlets Thursday. Joyce called her complaint “frivolous” and said it cost the town about $9,000 to defend.