SCHENECTADY — The new year will bring changes to the city’s court system.
City Judge Guido Loyola is retiring after three decades on the bench, and city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico will replace him.
Loyola, who is stepping down Dec. 31 because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, has worked in all three branches of city government.
He started as a City Council member in 1983 and later joined the city Corporation Counsel’s Office, serving as deputy corporation counsel until Dec. 1989, when he was appointed to the bench by then-Mayor Karen Johnson.
Loyola, who lives in the city’s Stockade neighborhood, won election to three 10-year terms, most recently in 2013.
He has worked as an acting County Court and Family Court judge, and has served as the supervising judge for city courts for the Fourth Judicial District, which covers Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington counties.
“I can tell you my experience in city government, in all three roles, has really been an eye-opener,” Loyola told the City Council after being honored with a ceremonial resolution earlier this month.
The award noted Loyola’s attention to detail, his role as a booster of local businesses, Union College hockey fan and animal lover.
“A truer friend of people and animals there never was,” said Schenectady County Family Court Judge Mark Blanchfield.
Loyola also delighted in performing wedding ceremonies at City Hall and has “even been known to stop court in the middle of a calendar in order to perform a wedding so the bride and groom would not have to wait,” according to the resolution.
“We can hold our heads up high, and know we served the people of Schenectady, because they are our first priority,” Loyola said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy earlier this year proposed eliminating one of the four judgeship positions, citing reduced caseloads.
But the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) rebuffed the plan, and the City Council vetoed his decision.
The city is currently working with OCA on rolling out additional courtroom space, which will eventually serve as the hub for a new human trafficking intervention court.
Falotico was honored by the City Council on Monday.
The city’s top lawyer, who ran unopposed for the open City Court judge's seat in November, will join City Court judges Robert Hoffman, Mark Caruso and Teneka Frost in January.
City Court handles misdemeanor criminal cases, motor vehicle and parking infractions, civil actions, small claims and landlord-tenant disputes.
Falotico has served as the city’s top legal official since 2014.
The job touches on all elements of city operations, making him uniquely qualified for his new job, he said.
Among the accomplishments he cites as his proudest include working to improve code violation prosecutions and shutting down bodegas that attracted crime and other violations.
Falotico said he found an unused section of City Code that allowed officials to go after problem stores — including the notorious Chubby’s in Mont Pleasant, which was closed, razed and now hosts a county library branch on the site.
“We shut down over 25 convenience stores that were problems at the time,” Falotico said.
While some of those have since reopened under different owners, complaints have diminished, he said.
“It makes me think we had an impact.”
And while not as exciting, Falotico spearheaded internal changes that modernized city policies and procedures, and personally wrote the city’s handbook, which is comprehensively used across City Hall.
Falotico started at the department in 2012.
Staffing levels have remained the same since then, he said, but the office has quadrupled its casework, primarily when it comes to processing code violations.
His team also has cleared backlogs of tax assessment challenges and, in a departure from other Capital Region localities, continues to handle in-house the city government's foreclosures, redevelopment and sale of distressed properties.
And the office also studied the state’s abandonment law and determined how to use it more effectively to take ownership of properties that were not being maintained despite being current on property taxes.
“We just figured how to use it effectively in a way that no one across the state had yet,” Falotico said.
That was all accomplished without increasing staffing or cost to the city, he said. “And we started getting a lot more work done with a direct benefit to residents.”
Falotico’s deputy is Assistant Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin. The office also recently hired James Commodore as an assistant corporation counsel.
Mayor Gary McCarthy has not yet announced who will replace Falotico.
"I'll probably be making that announcement at the end of this week,” McCarthy said Monday.
When it comes to advice for his successor, Falotico said the Corporation Counsel's Office is required to represent the Office of the Mayor, City Council and city employees, and they may not always have the same agenda.
The corporation counsel should not be aligned to any of those groups in particular, Falotico said.
“There are times when there is a conflict between that group of people,” he said. “If you take sides in any of those situations, they won’t respect advice you’ve given.
“Credibility, once you lose it, is hard to get back.”