SCHENECTADY -- The state court system is pushing back against one of Mayor Gary McCarthy’s key requests for 2019.
McCarthy said during his State of the City address on Monday he wanted to see the elimination of a City Court judgeship after Judge Guido Loyola retires later this year. In the address, he said the position, which was created in 2013, wasn’t necessary.
“Very simply, three City Court judges can comfortably handle the case load,” McCarthy said during his speech. He said keeping the fourth position will end up costing the city millions.
The state Unified Court System, though, didn't agree with that assessment.
“In our estimation, a fourth judge is needed,” said Lucian Chalfen, director of public information for the state Unified Court System, in an emailed statement. “Schenectady City Court is very busy with annual filings in excess of 18,000 [court filings], in a jurisdiction with a population of 65,000, which is why we maintain that the city of Schenectady needs to provide us with a suitable court facility as they are mandated to do.”
Chalfen went on to say that there were 23,737 cases in the city in 2018 alone. This left each of the four judges -- Robert Hoffman, Mark Caruso, Teneka Frost and Loyola -- to oversee between 5,000 to 9,000 “case appearances” last year.
In an interview on Tuesday, McCarthy said he wasn’t sure about those statistics. He said with violent crime going down 36 percent since he became mayor in 2011, the amount of crime being committed in the city is trending downward.
“I have to look at those numbers,” McCarthy said, “[The state court system] tend to distort numbers.”
McCarthy said the state court system misrepresented to the state Legislature that he and other mayors supported the creation of a fourth judgeship. “That’s factually incorrect,” McCarthy said.
Chalfen said he was unsure of what was said in 2016. However, he was sure about one thing. “We stand by our numbers,” Chalfen said.
During McCarthy’s speech, he said it would cost the city $3 million if it were to meet all of the requirements for the fourth judge. This would include the creation of an additional courtroom in the city.
City Court currently operates out of courtrooms located in City Hall and at the Schenectady Police Department. Chalfen also said the state court system allows for the city to use a courtroom in County Court to host some of the proceedings.
Chalfen said that the scattered nature of the courtrooms is not ideal. It’s been a longstanding problem the state has been trying to address, he said.
“The city is required to provide what we reasonably ask for,” Chalfen said. “Every other county and city in the state have managed to do so.”
The city considered several options in 2014, one of which was space in The Daily Gazette building on Maxon Road Extension, and the Center City building on State Street.
McCarthy suggested then the city could host night court, which could eliminate the need for another courtroom.
The state court system said then that night court was not an option. It would cost too much to provide additional staff for security and court officers to work in the courtrooms.
On Tuesday, McCarthy brought up the idea of night court again.
“The most efficient utilization of space is to shift to the evening,” McCarthy said. "If you run a night court, you already are using the physical facilities we have.”
McCarthy also said this would help those who need to take time off work to respond to traffic tickets.
Chalfen, though, pushed back on this suggestion again.
“It is the city’s obligation to provide a suitable court facility,” Chalfen said. “[McCarthy’s night court proposal] was made in order to avoid spending money to create an adequate facility. There is no operational need for night court in Schenectady.”
McCarthy still plans to continue his fight against the need for a fourth judge and the need to build an additional courtroom. It’s one he said he plans to bring to the state Legislature.