Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

Frank Rizzo | Democrat

Sheriff’s deputies make a traffic stop near the Government Center in Monticello recently. Unlike State Police troopers, deputies will still be involved in plea-bargaining the traffic tickets they hand out.

Plea bargaining a ticket

By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 5, 2010 — Got a speeding ticket from the New York State Police?
Looking to plead it down?
You probably already know state troopers won’t do that anymore.
As of this past January, neither will the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, except in criminal or otherwise extreme cases.
But that doesn’t mean you’re destined for trial or for a quick dismissal. Instead, it’ll all depend on what town or village court you find yourself in.
Whether you’re a speeder seeking mercy or a taxpayer looking out for your wallet, here’s what you can expect in the various municipalities of Sullivan County:
Town of Bethel
Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm said the town board hired attorney Alexandra Bourne in January to handle traffic tickets.
She’ll switch every other month between the two town justices for a total salary of $5,000 this year.
“It was an unbudgeted expense,” acknowledged Sturm, pointing out that DA Jim Farrell didn’t announce until December that his office would stop handling these plea-bargains.
He understands why Farrell took the action he did, but Sturm said the town board was adamant that it be handled, preferably by someone focused just on plea-bargaining.
Bourne will also serve as prosecutor if the accused doesn’t accept the plea-bargain.
Town of Callicoon
The Callicoon Town Board decided in January to delegate plea-bargaining to its current town attorney, Marvin Newberg.
Supervisor Tom Bose said he’s not yet sure how much it’s going to cost, though he added that Newberg’s expenses will be handled through an existing retainer agreement.
“We’re going to have to see how it goes,” Bose remarked. “We’re going to do it on a trial basis… for several months.”
He said he understands why Farrell did not maintain the expensive and time-consuming service, but he worried that this new duty may cost the township.
“I don’t see it as a moneymaker, for sure,” he said.
Town of Cochecton
Cochecton’s town attorney, John Keating, is now handling plea-bargaining of traffic tickets in town court.
Supervisor Gary Maas said Keating is being paid hourly to do about two hours of extra work every month, which will cost the township $2,000-$3,000 by the end of the year.
“It’s not a real bad thing,” said Maas, who anticipated that the extra costs will be covered by the increased fee revenue the town can keep through this new arrangement.
Town of Delaware
While an agreement with the town board has yet to be finalized, Delaware’s town attorney, Ken Klein, said he plans on dedicating one extra night a month to handling plea-bargains.
He didn’t believe it would be too significant a change, though he acknowledged that more of his time means more of an expense to the township.
Whether or not Delaware will recoup that cost is dependent on how cases are disposed of, he explained.
“Time will tell on that,” he predicted.
Town of Fallsburg
“We appointed a special prosecutor, Bruce Perlmutter,” explained Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante.
Though Fallsburg has its own town police force, Perlmutter will handle plea-bargaining for State Police and Fallsburg PD-issued speeding tickets, he said.
“That frees up a significant amount of [town police] overtime,” Vegliante pointed out.
As a result, costs could drop, though Vegliante said he won’t know until the end of the year.
In the meantime, the town has budgeted $12,000 to pay Perlmutter for his services – and in recognition of the fact that, as a result of these new duties, he can no longer represent clients in traffic ticket cases as a private attorney.
“He’s a good, community-minded guy,” said Vegliante, adding that he’s proud, too, of the town police. “Our cops are going above and beyond.”
And Vegliante doesn’t hold anything against Farrell for this.
“In the grand scheme of things,” he said, “I would love the DA’s Office to do it and save us the $12,000, but I understand their budgetary constraints.”
Town of Forestburgh
Forestburgh Town Clerk Joanne Nagoda said the town’s existing attorneys declined to handle plea-bargains, basically because it would force them to give up representing clients in similar cases in private practice.
So the town justices said it could be handled without an attorney, instead having the accused simply come to court on the set date.
“If the trooper shows, there’s no plea-bargaining, just a trial,” Nagoda explained.
And if the ticketing trooper doesn’t appear, then the judges are empowered to toss the charge(s).
Town of Fremont
Fremont’s method is quite simple in how they deal with plea-bargaining.
“We’re not,” Supervisor Jim Greier matter-of-factly put it.
The town doesn’t have an attorney on retainer, he said – never has, in fact, in Greier’s 10 years in office.
“We’re not about to hire one now to plea-bargain traffic tickets for the State Police,” he added.
Greier figured it would take all the fees collected from a year of summonses to hire a lawyer to work on these cases for just two hours.
“The town can’t afford it – that’s the way it is,” he stated. “Our town is solvent, and we want to keep it that way.”
So unless the trooper shows up on your court date in Fremont, expect the judge to toss your ticket.
Town of Highland
Existing town attorney Michael Davidoff has gotten the new plea-bargaining duties, said Highland Supervisor Andrew Boyar.
As a result, he’s going to be available at town board meetings on an as-needed basis, focusing much of his time on these new court matters, plus ongoing duties with the planning and zoning boards.
Nevertheless, Davidoff continues being paid through his existing retainer.
“Yes, it is a cost to the town,” Boyar acknowledged. “But nobody knows what the impact is, because we really haven’t had experience with it.”
Like many other town officials, Boyar said results will be better known as the year progresses.
“... [It] may be a financial benefit to the town,” he mused. “... It’s a bunch of unknowns.”
As for Farrell, Boyar didn’t fault him one bit for passing the duties on to local municipalities, expressing complete confidence in the new DA.

top of page  |  home  |  archives