City Court Expansion Sign Of Troubling Times

It is a depressing sign of the times that the New York State Unified Court System feels it is necessary to have a second full-time judge in Jamestown City Court.

City Court had, for the longest time, been a one-judge operation. It has been about 10 years since the state decided Jamestown needed a part-time judge to lessen the caseload on Judge John LaMancuso. Now, the state has deemed it necessary to have a second full-time judge.

The court’s regular docket includes criminal cases, motor vehicle and parking infractions, civil, small claims, landlord and tenant disputes and commercial cases as well as administration of Drug Court, Domestic Violence Court, Mental Health Court and treatment cases. Every few years, the state Unified Court System studies caseloads in courts across the state and makes recommendations to the state Legislature on the number of judges necessary for each court throughout the state.

A comparison of the court’s caseloads as provided by the state Unified Court System’s annual reports shows the overall caseload in Jamestown increased from 8,037 in 1998 to 8,712 in 2011. The number of cases then decreased in 2012 to 7,518, but that appears to be because the court heard 483 fewer parking ticket cases and 422 fewer civil cases. Criminal cases have increased from 2,765 in 1998 to 3,023 in 2012. Landlord-tenant cases increased by 49 from 2011 to 2012 and aren’t even listed in the 1998 breakdown, an indication of how such cases are handled now compared to the last 1990s.

Perhaps George Panebianco, who has served as the city’s part-time City Court judge for the past decade, says it better than the numbers can.

“The court was just getting busier,” Panebianco told The Post-Journal. “… The state correctly added the second city court judge. You shouldn’t have to wait three or four months to get your case adjudicated.”

The city has never needed a second full-time judge before, not even during the city’s heyday back in the 1950s and 1960s.

It says something about the state of the city – and of our society as a whole – that a city with 20,000 fewer people needs more people to adjudicate cases that come before the court. We should take it as a sign that things that were resolved peaceably between people – landlord and tenant issues or civil cases, for example – now have to go before City Court. It should be an indictment of our area’s economy and the desperation people face that there are 300 more criminal cases heard before City Court in 2012 than there were in 1998.

Few will argue that Jamestown needs a second City Court judge. It’s just a shame that it needs a second City Court judge.