Stop Illegal Court Proceedings in Ontario County
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Illegal arraignments and Court proceedings are happening in Ontario County. This needs to be fixed. Four years ago, New York State was sued, because Ontario County and four other Counties were failing to provide sufficient legal representation to defendants, causing New York State to spend $4 million in funding to rectify the insufficient quality of legal representation for criminal Defendants in those Counties...It will happen again if we don't take action. Additionally, the powers at be in the Ontario County Criminal Justice System are in danger of wasting your tax dollars in other ways...
We need the Board of Supervisors to immediately correct the illegal arraignments occurring in Ontario County to protect the State from being sued again because of Ontario County's actions, and provide us with the information to reassure us that Ontario County won't get to this unfortunate and illegal state again.
Pursuant to various NYS Laws and rules of the Chief Administrative Judge's Administration, all criminal proceedings in New York (with a couple of exceptions of Grand Jury proceedings and Youthful Offender actions) are to be (1) Open to the Public, and (2) Recorded, whether through the use of a stenographer or through mechanical means, aka a recorder.
Part of those proceedings are off-hour arraignments on criminal matters.
Governor Cuomo in 2016 signed a new law that allows New York State to designate centralized sites in each County for "off-hour" arraignments and criminal proceedings.
ONTARIO COUNTY OFF HOUR ARRAIGNMENTS
To help explain off hour arraignments as they stand in Ontario County now, and Cuomo's new law, I will give you an example of how "off hour" arraignments and proceedings are handled:
Right now in Ontario County, if John Doe is arrested at 9:45 am in Farmington, and Court is not in session in Farmington, then the Judge is called over the phone and required to appear in Farmington at that time, as well as a Public Defender or other defense counsel. The same is true if Jane Doe is arrested at 11:00am in Victor, and Victor Court is not in session, the Victor Judge and a Public Defender will then be called to appear in Victor at that time. This process continues throughout the day between the hours of 8am and 10pm, including the weekends. While most of these arraignments are technically available to the public, it is near impossible to put the public on knowledge of when an off hour arraignment/proceeding is going to occur, since they happen with only a few minutes notice.
THE NEW LEGISLATION
So... the new legislation from Governor Cuomo allows Ontario County, and every County, after State approval, to enact a plan for centralized arraignments...Therefore, instead of the above process of calling the Judge and defense counsel at any time, centralized arraignments (in round-a-bout terms) would look something like this:
"All arrests in Ontario County that occur between the hours of 7:30pm and 10:30am will be taken to Hopewell town Court, with arraignments for that time period beginning at 8:30am and ending at 10:30am. And all arrests occurring between 10:30am and 7:30pm will be taken to Manchester town Court with arraignments beginning at 5:00pm and ending at 7:30pm."
This "centralized" system makes off hours arraignments easier and fairer on everyone...It lets Judges, law enforcement, and defense counsel know where and when arraignments and other court proceedings will be, before they even happen, instead of only having a few minutes notice via a phone call and having to drop what you're doing. It also ensures that the client will have legal representation readily available. Lastly, it allows the proper recording mechanisms to be put in place and ready to go, as well as the arraignments and proceedings to be open and known to the public so they could attend if they wanted...Which leads us to the current problems...
ILLEGAL ARRAIGNMENTS NOW
It is my understanding, upon information and belief, that Ontario County has made multiple proposals to the State for a centralized system, yet the proposals have not been fully accepted and able to start. That in itself is not a big deal, since this process and the logistics of the same can be complicated... but the most recent hang up has to do with what we need to address immediately...
The County proposed to the State of New York that the centralized arraignments take place in the Jail, and showed the state the jail cells where arraignments currently happen...They most likely proposed a jail cell for the location because the off hour arraignments for arrests that occur now between the hours of 10pm and 6:00am on the weekend are done in a jail cell... in the jail...away from the public and unrecorded. This is against the law.
How did the state feel about this? They were shocked...
And as they should be. Little does the State know...private arraignments are par for the Course in Ontario County. Weekend jail arraignments have gone on for as long as I can remember in Ontario County... and Geneva City Judges conduct their arraignments in the same procedure...in a holding cell, away from the public and unrecorded. But, to make theirs even worse, their holding cell is in the police station...So when the Judge walks into a police station, and up to your jail cell to conduct your arraignment, in private, it doesn't really give you a sense of fairness by a neutral third party.And last I knew, Geneva City Court was refusing to participate in centralized arraignments...but that may have (hopefully) changed by now.
THE COUNTY'S PROPOSED "FIX"
But, back to the proposal...The good news is that the State did find certain parts of the jail acceptable for the centralized arraignments. HOWEVER, changes would need to be made at the jail in order to accommodate proper procedures. Changes=money, money=tax money.
Why? Why is this necessary?
Am I the only one wondering: "Don't we have perfectly good local courts to hold the arraignments at? Already set up to hold the public and record the proceedings and also a whole lot more welcoming to the public than having to go into the jail?"
THE BIG PROBLEMS
Maybe I am missing something or don't quite understand the process as it has occurred so far, and disclaimer: if any of the information in this petition is incorrect, please someone correct me asap, because my main goal is to have everyone be informed of the local spending. But, we at least need to get involved and demand immediate action from the Board and answers before they approve spending on something that doesn't need to happen in the first place. This is ONE of the problems.
Problem number TWO is that as we speak, the private and unrecorded arraignments at the jail on the weekends and those at Geneva City Court are continuing to occur...Whether or not you have any soft spots for those accused of a crime, and want their proceedings to be carried out fairly and legally, by not following the law and by violating people's rights, the County is just ASKING for the State to be sued again. So again, while you may not be an advocate for defendant's rights, I don't believe you will be too proud of a County that continues to cause New York to be sued and cost the State millions of dollars for not following the law. (See the irony there?)
THE BIG PICTURE AND WHY WE NEED TO ACT
Lastly, when the State was sued several years ago (look up the Hurrell-Harring settlement), part of the deal was that each County found to be providing insufficient representation, would clean up their act. Indigent Legal Services (ILS) of New York was tasked with making sure that each County was doing their due diligence in abiding by the settlement...To check in on that...when it was requested of the Public Defender's Office to rectify the private and unrecorded arraignments in Geneva City Court, the response from the Public Defender's Office was: "attorneys can bring their own recording devices if they want" and it's my understanding that the Public Defender's Office is also on board with the centralized arraignments being held in the jail. As for the District Attorney's stance on the illegal arraignments, I'm not sure, but it would be a good question for Mr. Ritts, in my opinion.
New York State, and the five Counties (including Ontario), cost taxpayers $4 million dollars, and this is NOT including the $5.5 million that New York had to pay in legal fees as well...
Shortly after the settlement, ILS put out an article that quoted: "The suit contended that representation provided to indigent defendants in the five counties failed to meet standards under Gideon in a variety of ways, including lawyers not being present at initial appearances, attorneys not conferring in a meaningful way with defendants prior to trial and public defenders or assigned counsels having few resources to investigate or adequately prepare a case."
Insufficient legal representation and violations of defendants constitutional and state rights cost New York $9.5 million dollars just a few years ago...A real black eye on the people of Ontario County.
Let's demand that our Board take action to immediately rectify the illegal arraignments that are occurring in our Jail and in Geneva City, as well as demand information from the Board explaining what actions they are currently taking, or will take in the future to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
Thank you, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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