QUEENSBURY — After more than two years of planning, Warren County’s plan to develop a centralized court program for after-hours, weekend and holiday arraignments has gotten state approval.
Officials hope the program will save thousands of dollars when it is up and running.
The state Office of Court Administration approved the county’s plan last week, which Glens Falls Judge Gary Hobbs said puts those involved on track to start holding court proceedings early next year.
The plan is designed to save costs through travel and pay for attorneys, police and judges who are called out to arraign those charged with crimes and other offenses when courts are not open.
State rules that required defense counsel to be present at court appearances where a defendant is at risk of being jailed have changed the court system in recent years, resulting in lawyers on both sides of a case being called out at all hours. Instead, defendants will be held in a lockup at Warren County Jail until the next arraignment time in the morning or night.
The new program is similar to one that is underway in Washington County, where judges rotate in an on-call schedule and hold arraignments in the morning and evening as needed at the county jail in Fort Edward.
In Warren County, proceedings will be held in a courtroom that is near completion in the lobby of the former county jail in the back of the Municipal Center.
Hobbs, who is supervising judge for town and village justices in Warren, Washington, Essex and Hamilton counties, said the courtroom will need a couple of days worth of work to be finished. Furniture needs to be brought in and judges trained on the software.
All town and city justices in the county have been given the option to be part of the judicial rotation.
Hobbs said the plan is to have arraignments held in the new courtroom by late January or early February, and security officers will be on hand for proceedings. The judge also praised the cooperation between agencies and people to get the court plan through.
After arraignment, cases return to the court where the offense occurred for subsequent proceedings.
Warren County Public Defender Marcy Flores said earlier this year that nearly half of the 810 arraignments last year occurred at night or on weekends. The centralizing plan will reduce costs by letting counsel know ahead of time that arraignments will occur once in the morning and once in the evening, as defendants can be held in the county jail lockup pending those scheduled times.
Tucker Stanclift, a local defense lawyer who is chairman of the criminal justice section of the New York State Bar Association, said a Bar Association committee that reviewed centralized arraignment programs has recommended a statewide implementation of centralized arraignment programs for better representation of defendants and a streamlining of the criminal justice system.
“The real issue is the timeliness,” he said. “It provides everybody the opportunity to have their case heard in a fair and prompt manner.”
He said it will also cut down on “judge shopping” by police, who, he said, would sometimes take defendants to judges who have reputations for setting higher bail than others.
Stanclift said some judges around the state were concerned about a “loss of jurisdiction” by judges when arraignments are centralized and taken from their courts, but the plan in Washington County shows that it has worked well.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody involved,” Stanclift said.