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Towns take different approaches to tickets

Part 2 of 2

By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 9, 2010 — Just because the State Police issue traffic tickets that neither they nor the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office plea-bargain anymore doesn’t mean you’re destined for trial or for a quick dismissal of that speeding ticket.
Instead, it’ll all depend on what town or village court you find yourself in.
Part 1 of this series appeared in this past Friday’s issue, along with another article with DA Jim Farrell explaining that more serious traffic tickets (i.e., high speeds, passing stopped school buses) will still be handled by the DA’s Office.
If you do mark “not guilty” on that ticket and head to court on the appointed date, here’s what you can expect in the various municipalities of Sullivan County:
Village of Bloomingburg
Bloomingburg officials could not be reached for comment at press time.
Village of Jeffersonville
Jeffersonville does not have its own court, sending all cases to the Town of Callicoon.
Town of Liberty
Liberty Supervisor John Schmidt said town attorney Ken Klein will handle plea-bargains.
No amount has been budgeted, but Klein will be physically present at town court sessions, so new expenses will be incurred.
“Obviously it’s going to cost them money it didn’t cost them before,” said Klein.
Whether or not the fee structure will recoup those costs remains to be seen.
“You know something?” Klein added. “You’ll never know [for sure].”
Village of Liberty
Liberty’s village court clerk, Lillian Rubio, confirmed that with its own police force, the village isn’t seeing too many State Police-issued traffic tickets.
Those that do come through village court, however, don’t require a special prosecutor. Thus, there’s no plea-bargaining to speak of – if the trooper appears, the matter is handled then and there; if not, the ticket is dismissed.
Town of Lumberland
Lumberland Supervisor Nadia Rajsz said no action has been taken yet.
“We’re in a holding pattern actually,” she explained. “I’ve left this up to the judges to make their determination.”
She expects to hear back from the town justices by this week’s board meeting.
Town of Mamakating
Jean Dougherty, Mamakating’s town clerk, said the town board in January appointed a Middletown attorney, Howard Dallow, as town prosecutor.
He’s being paid $125 an hour to handle plea-bargaining and prosecution at trial, with increased court revenues expected to cover his costs.
Village of Monticello
Since Monticello features its own police force, Police Chief Doug Solomon said State Police speeding cases make infrequent appearances in village court.
And should they, the court will handle the matter itself, with no special prosecutor being hired by the village.
Town of Neversink
Attorney Ken Klein has been hired by Neversink to handle traffic ticket plea-bargains within its court.
The town board recently agreed to pay him $500 a month.
Town of Rockland
Rockland is handling plea-bargains straight through its judges, said Supervisor Ed Weitmann.
Though judges cannot act as prosecutors, “they do have a little leeway to bring [tickets] down a little bit,” explained Weitmann.
If the cases go to trial, then the town will pay an attorney by the hour to prosecute, he added, but the town board has yet to pick who that will be. Such trials will be scheduled in groups to ensure the attorney does not have to be at every court session.
Weitmann said he’s fairly certain any extra expenses will be recouped by the fees generated from this new arrangement.
“We don’t lose money on the justice system,” he pointed out.
As for having to take on these new duties, Weitmann was matter-of-fact.
“You take it as it comes anymore,” he remarked.
Town of Thompson
According to Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, the town board set aside $12,000 for the deputy town attorney, Paula Kay, to handle traffic ticket cases this year.
“Our prosecutor, along with Sgt. Rafferty from the New York State Police, and our two town justices met prior to the town undertaking this responsibility,” recalled Cellini, “and we all were prepared in the beginning of January.”
In fact, Kay has already begun her duties.
“Her first court she handled 250 traffic tickets, and the second traffic court date she handled about the same,” Cellini explained. “As you can see, we acted – we did not react.”
As for Farrell, Cellini had no complaint.
“I certainly understand the DA’s Office being overwhelmed with traffic court when they should be handling and concentrating on more serious offenses,” he remarked.
Town of Tusten
Tusten Supervisor Margaret Harrison said the township will handle plea-bargains as an extension of the duties of the attorney for the township, Jeffrey Clemente.
After three months, the town board will review the issue again and make adjustments as needed, she added.
Harrison didn’t believe the change would negatively impact Tusten’s finances, and she expressed no animosity towards Farrell or the State Police for forcing this change.
“Everything is a process,” she pointed out. “You make changes to the process as you go along.”
Village of Woodridge
Woodridge’s deputy village clerk, Myra Bennett – who also is the court clerk – said the village has its own police force and rarely sees traffic tickets from the State Police.
As a result, unless the matter goes to trial (thus requiring the services of village attorney Jeff Kaplan), State Police tickets will be handled the same as any other: if the trooper shows, it’s dealt with; if not, the ticket’s tossed.
Village of Wurtsboro
Wurtsboro handles its cases through Mamakating Town Court.

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