QUEENSBURY — Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller has had many nighttime callouts for arraignments during his 32 years on the town bench.
“There were times I was called out three times in one night,” Muller said Wednesday.
A new arraignment court that will eliminate those after-hours court proceedings was formally opened at the Warren County Municipal Center on Wednesday, and the county’s town and village justices and city judge couldn’t be happier.
“This is going to be a welcome change,” Muller said.
The court is technically known as a “centralized arraignment part” and is the second one of its kind in the judicial district, which stretches from Albany County to the Canadian border. Washington County started one in October 2017.
The state passed legislation in 2016 that allows counties to create the courts as a way to streamline arraignments in light of a legal change that required defense lawyers at all arraignments when a defendant was at risk of going to jail.
That legal change resulted in increased costs for public defenders and prosecutors who had to staff arraignments around the county. Previously, the arraignments would involve just the judge, defendant and a police officer who made the arrest.
Instead of having the proceedings at all times of day and night, the centralized arraignment program will convene once in the morning and once in the early evening, but only when there are defendants in custody, waiting to be arraigned. It will save travel and overtime costs that were being generated by arraignments around the county at all times of day and night.
Those arrested after hours will be held in Warren County Jail’s lockup until the next scheduled arraignment time.
“This is going to save time and it’s going to save money,” said Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore.
The program was steered to fruition by Glens Falls Judge Gary Hobbs, the supervising judge for local court justices in the region.
At an opening ceremony Wednesday, attended by District Administrative Judge Felix Catena and other judges and dignitaries, Hobbs pointed out it took three years of planning, and subsequent renovations of the former county jail’s booking area by Warren County buildings and grounds staff, to get to this week’s opening. There were myriad security, building, training and planning issues.
With assistance from the Queensbury Town Court staff’s efforts to seek reimbursement, much of the renovations will be paid for by the state, Hobbs said.
The new court will not only save money, but it will also better serve defendants and victims. Relatives will be able to attend court proceedings, and the computer system will allow judges to enter orders of protection directly into a state database at the arraignment, instead of waiting until the next business day when arraignments are held after hours, Hobbs explained.
Lake Luzerne Town Justice Bruce Hayes will take the first week-long shift on the court, starting Friday morning.
Hayes joined Muller in welcoming the changes the court will bring.
“It’s great. It’s going to eliminate those middle of the night calls,” he said.