Schenectady and Albany counties appeared to be on track Tuesday to get extra help on the Family Court bench as the Assembly passed a bill calling for one new judge for each and the Senate is considering a bill that calls for the same.
The bills come after Gov. Andrew Cuomo included in the state budget $5 million for 20 new Family Court judges statewide. Schenectady and Albany counties each made the state Office of Court Administration’s list of courts most in need of an additional judge. Schenectady County currently has two judges, Albany County three.
The Legislature must approve the locations of the judgeships by the end of the session in about two weeks. The goal is to get the positions on the November ballot.
Time, though, is already tight. Nominating petitions would be due July 10, a date officials said is unlikely to change.
With that, Schenectady County Democrats have already met and sorted through nine candidates, endorsing one for a position that has yet to be officially created, according to Democratic Committee Chairman Brian Quail.
County Republican Chairman James Buhrmaster could not be reached Tuesday.
Democrats, Quail said, voted to endorse Niskayuna attorney Ursula Hall, currently the court attorney for Family Court Judge Kevin Burke. She previously worked as a county attorney focusing on child custody and neglect cases, officials said.
Quail said the committee felt it had to move ahead of the possible approval because the time frame would have been too short to start a formal process and get petitions signed had they waited.
“The odd piece of this is that there is no campaign until there is a position,” Quail said.
If the position is created, candidates would need to get 1,000 signatures by the July 10 deadline, Quail said. They can’t start getting signatures, however, until the position is created.
According to local legislators, the proposed Schenectady and Albany county positions appear headed for approval. The Assembly voted 129-1 Monday to approve its bill, which follows the Office of Court Administration recommendations completely.
The Senate is considering a bill that includes the 20 recommended judgeships, but also three more, one each for Delaware, Franklin and Warren counties. Under both bills, the 20 recommended judges would take office Jan. 1, 2015. If approved, the extra three in the Senate proposal would start Jan. 1, 2016.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, co-sponsored the Assembly’s bill. “It’s good news,” Santabarbara said. “Family Court serves a lot of residents in my district. There’s a tremendous need for it.”
Both state Sens. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, also support adding the judges. Tkaczyk’s district includes parts of both Schenectady and Albany counties.
Tkaczyk noted Family Court deals with many sensitive issues.
“This is a really important part of the judicial system,” she said. “We want to make sure it gets moving.”
Farley said he is working to make sure Schenectady County remains in any final bill.
“I’ve made sure that’s happened,” Farley said.
Vito Caruso, chief administrative judge for the 4th Judicial District, has said there is a need for a new Family Court judge in Schenectady County. Caruso noted Schenectady County Family Court is the busiest in the district, which also includes Saratoga, Montgomery and Fulton counties and points north.
“It looks pretty darn good right now with both bills saying ‘yes’ to Schenectady,” Caruso said Tuesday. “It’ll be a tremendous help.”
Albany County is in the 3rd Judicial District.