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Oct 27, 2008 2:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Justices upset over criticisms about court schedules

Oct 27, 2008 2:44 PM

What was supposed to be a discussion about the relocation of the Southampton Town Justice Court, from its current location at Town Hall to Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays, turned into a mock trial of sorts on Friday as talks focused on the merits of having a fourth Town Justice position.

Justices Thomas DeMayo, Edward Burke and Barbara Wilson, all Republicans, attended Friday’s work session at Town Hall to defend their work ethic amid public criticisms that their workload has decreased with the addition of the fourth judge in February 2007. Justice Deborah Kooperstein, a Democrat, did not join her colleagues at the meeting.

The new justice post was aimed at alleviating congestion and clearing up the docket of one of the busiest justice courts in New York State, according to the resolution adopted by the Town Board in 2007. But the issue of whether the fourth judgeship has achieved those objectives has resurfaced in this year’s Town Justice race in which Democrat Andrea Schiavoni is seeking to unseat Justice DeMayo. Ms. Schiavoni made an unsuccessful run for the fourth seat last year.

Justice Wilson, visibly angry Friday with Town Supervisor Linda Kabot for comments she made to the press, took to the podium and held no punches in voicing her displeasure with the supervisor. “I’m tired of hearing that we’re lazy and aren’t working hard,” Justice Wilson said.

“No one said you weren’t working hard,” Ms. Kabot responded. “I didn’t hold a press conference to talk about the work schedule of the Justice Court. A reporter came to me because they are looking for stories.”

“We didn’t even know about the fourth justice position beforehand, there was no communication,” Justice Wilson said. “But we are doing a lot more down there. And I’ve invited you to come down there to see for yourself, Ms. Kabot, and you haven’t.”

“Thanks for the public lashing,” the supervisor replied, who clarified earlier comments she had made to The Press that only Justice DeMayo had increased his schedule. “All the justices have taken on extra days,” she said.

The controversy stems from criticisms raised by Ms. Schiavoni that the addition of the fourth justice did not enhance the effectiveness of the court the way it was pitched to the public in 2007.

When there only three justices, each worked a one-week on, two weeks off rotation for a total of 18 weeks per year. The intent was for the new judge to work side by side with a veteran judge to expedite cases. Instead, the fourth judge entered the status quo rotation; so now each of the four works a one-week on, three weeks off rotation, for a total of 13 weeks a year.

However, each justice does work an additional Thursday per month and, in May, Justice DeMayo established a Wednesday night court. But, in Ms. Schiavoni’s view, this does not justify the added taxpayer expense of $67,100 in salary, plus benefits, for the fourth justice. As part of her election campaign, Ms. Schiavoni has also questioned why it took so long to establish the Wednesday night court.

At Friday’s work session, the justices took offense to that criticism and seemed to interpret questioning the effectiveness of the fourth justice position as a referendum on their judicial integrity.

Justice Burke said the argument that the justices were working less was “one-sided” and said the town has a fine bench. “We’re doing a good job,” he said. “When we’re working, we’re on call 24/7. If a search warrant needs to be signed at 3 a.m., then we have to answer the call. There are about half a dozen restaurants in town I can’t go to because of decisions I’ve made But, that’s part of the job.”

Town Board member Chris Nuzzi, who said he had “no issue with the efforts of any of the Town Justices,” tried to return the conversation to its original focus, that of the court’s relocation. “The purpose of this work session was to discuss the relocation of the court to Hampton Bays that’s costing the taxpayers $3 million,” he said.

If elected, Ms. Schiavoni has promised to work for a more efficiently run court, arguing that a “more fiscally responsible court is a more fair court.” The challenger from Sag Harbor favors having two full-time judges working in tandem and utilizing e-filings, video arraignments, and satellites offices to clear up the caseload.

A professional mediator, Ms. Schiavoni said she wants to make better use of the town’s mediation program, which, she said, would help thin the caseload by settling matters before they reach the trial stage.

In response, Justice DeMayo, who has 16 years on the town bench, has said the main obstacle from running a tighter ship has been the lack of space in the current Town Hall in Southampton Village and that the move to Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays will allow the court to operate more efficiently.

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I dont live in the Hamptons, but I do work in these courts regularly.

Anyone who would accuse any of these four justices of not working extremely hard has never sat in on the one o'clock traffic court calendar on any given monday. This is one of the hardest working courts around and they process a great many cases very efficiently, even in the tiny underground bunker-maze that now houses this court.

The move to a better facility, any better facility, is a great idea, as is ...more
By davekappesq (1), Bay Shore on Oct 29, 08 6:14 PM
Dear Dave:
I can only speak for myself, but I do not question the work ethic of any of the Town justices, their judicial integrity, or their dedication to the people of Southampton Town. I never accused any one of them of not working hard.
I reported only on the court schedule and how often they work in light of the addition of the fourth justice, which was added last year. The effectiveness of that additional justice position in achieving the objectives articulated by the Town Board when ...more
By Brian Bossetta (17), Southampton on Oct 29, 08 10:01 PM
The town justices work very hard, and are worth what they are paid.. Linda Kabot, made a statement to the media and it has backfired on her .... AGAIN!
By JohnPalmBay (5), Palm Bay on Oct 30, 08 6:42 AM
I don't think anyone questions that the justices work hard. It's just that they work less now. $67000 is nice pay for a part time job.
By southamptonnative (11), southampton on Oct 30, 08 8:20 AM
The basis of reporter Bossetta's story, if his math is right, seems to be a valid assessment that the original rationale for creating the fourth Justice position, has not been realized. If I read it correctly, that fourth Justice, Burke, isn't handling additional cases, just lessening the three existing Justices' work-load. The end result, they are getting the same pay for less work.

Is that actually a photo of "Town Justice Barbara Wilson???" I hope that Mr. Bossetta never has to appear ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Oct 30, 08 9:19 AM
Bossetta is correct. The addition of a new justice did not increase bench time one iota. That is until the truth came out and they were forced to do some "adjustments". Justice DeMayo only added the night court position because he was running against someone (Andrea Schiavoni) who had long been outspoken in criticizing the 4th Justice addition and the lack of a night court. And, whether there are 1, 2, 12, or 20 justices they are ALL on call at anytime of night or day to sign warrants and writs. ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Oct 30, 08 12:26 PM
I don't know if the case load has lessened or that the Justices have just taken advantage of an extra Justice to work less, which seems to be obvious based on the comments in the article but I'm sure that if the extra time to issue warrants and writs were divided among 4 judges I don't think anyone would notice. So It seems to me a pretty good salary and perks for 13 weeks a year.
By tom (53), Hampton Bays on Oct 30, 08 10:19 PM
I believe it was Shakespeare who cautioned us against one who protests too much. The justice court has a public image problem because three justices who once worked 54 weeks has been changed to four judges who work 52 weeks, because night court which has been a problem for over four years has just been instituted in the past few months, because stategic mediation ( a successful. cost effective technique) is only now being considered and because scoulding your critics in a public forum politicizes ...more
By Frank (3), Southampton on Nov 1, 08 9:47 AM
The Justice system in Southampton is a fiscal nightmare. Adding police and the long range pension liability that comes with this added headcount, adding a judge without increasing productivity,, building a $3 million courthouse--for what? So we can get more traffic tickets? Lets remember the cops taking bribes and the town council members getting caught on tape taking bribes before we spend another $3 million on another town construction boondoggle. Enough is enough, start voting these kooks ...more
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Nov 1, 08 11:56 PM
Now we have Tom DeMayo asking us for four more years. That would make 20 years on the bench. It took an election for him to support a night court. If he were sincere about his action, he would have done it 7 years ago. His opponent ran on that issue last year against Burke...hmm. Tom DeMayo voted to rotate that new justice into an existing schedule with no new court time added (including a night court). Now Tom DeMayo only works 13 weeks a year on the bench. When he did that he acted in his self ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Nov 2, 08 8:12 AM
It is known that the law is to be follwed at all times no exception [this is the easy part since we have law enforcers], enforcing of the law isn't so easy. The facts and truth must all be kept in mind, the circumstance and sitaution must be kept in mind. I do feel that the Judges in Southampton have a busy schedule which just goes with the times. I going to get off the subject at the time a say "America has lost it's meaning, God is no longer in charge, we have become like blow fish ignoring ...more
By let'stryagain (21), WestHampton Beach on Oct 14, 09 5:29 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By let'stryagain (21), WestHampton Beach on Oct 14, 09 5:29 PM