OCA Names Chautauqua As A County In Need

As the New York State Legislature attempts to allocate the 20 Family Court judgeships included in the state budget, there are clear indications that Chautauqua County will receive one.

According to Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, the Office of Court Administration – the administrative arm of the court system – recently put together a list of New York state counties most in need of Family Court judges.

Nine were recommended for counties within New York City; 11 for counties outside.

Chautauqua County, perhaps not surprisingly, was one of the 11.

For nearly 10 to 15 years, the Chautauqua County Family Court in Mayville has had to endure the alarming trend of skyrocketing caseloads amidst scant personnel.

With only one judge, the court is often unable to adjudicate cases in a timely fashion, leaving many families trapped in a perpetual state of limbo over enormously sensitive issues, like child neglect, abuse, foster care and juvenile delinquency.

Goodell, who has often voiced the need for more Family Court judges in Chautauqua County and even introduced a bill to that end, believes the OCA list and upcoming legislation look promising.

“The chairwoman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee has assured me that she intends to push for the allocation of Family Court judges as recommended by OCA,” Goodell said. “If successful, (this) would result in an additional Family Court judge for Chautauqua County.”

Goodell added, however, that nothing is definitive yet.

“Apparently, there is some effort by other communities that were not recommended (on the list) … to change the allocation and get a judge for their own community,” Goodell said. “If an additional Family Court judge is approved for a community that’s not on the OCA list, it means some community has to come off the list.”

Indeed, the political wrangling this generates is one of the main reasons why the allocation of judges has been delayed.

According to the Hon. Judge Judith Claire, the county’s only Family Court judge, this legislative delay is not without a cost, as would-be Family Court judges are losing valuable time to run for office.

“(Candidates) are up against the wall,” Judge Claire said. “(Thursday) was the first day to start circulating petitions to get on the November ballot. (Candidates) are at a huge disadvantage if they can’t mount a campaign and don’t even know if they can run.”

Family Court candidates must attain several hundred signatures on their petitions in order to get on the November ballot. The petition deadline is July 10.

“There’s nothing we can do if (the legislature) chooses not to act,” Judge Claire said. “If they just go home on (June 19 when the legislature session ends) they’ll just go home.”

This notwithstanding, Goodell remains confident that an allocation agreement will be reached within the next couple weeks.

“Both (state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean) and I are reasonably confident that we’ll reach an agreement between both houses and that we’ll include Chautauqua County,” Goodell said. “We’re also working our very best to get that done as quickly as possible to give judge candidates as much time as possible to circulate petitions.”

Goodell added that the state Senate has its own list of recommended counties, which is slightly different from the Assembly’s list. But in both cases, Chautauqua County is included.

“Is there a risk that (the Legislature) can’t agree on how to allocate all the judges and therefore don’t allocate any?” Goodell asked. “Yes, that’s always a possibility. If the Assembly says ‘my way or the highway’ and the Senate says the same, then they both lose. But I don’t think that’s likely.”