Dispute over court security in Princetown much ado about nothing
Town justices are supposed to referee disputes, but Princetown’s, Michelle Van Woeart, always seems to be getting into them. This time, again, it’s with Supervisor Michael Joyce, and again, as with Van Woeart’s claims of sex discrimination (which the state Division of Human Rights dismissed last month), Joyce has the better case.
The current dispute is over the security detail in town justice court. In September Joyce cut the number of security personnel from two to one. That was after he and the town board had asked Van Woeart to cut both her security and clerical budget in light of the reduced the number of cases in recent years, and Van Woeart resisted.
Court security has been provided by sheriff’s deputies since 2008, when the county Legislature approved a resolution allowing it. The town and then-Sheriff Harry Buffardi struck a deal calling for one deputy to work a four-hour minimum at the overtime rate — a standard arrangement demanded by law enforcement unions for any work that is out of the ordinary.
But that one deputy eventually turned into two, even as the court case load was steadily declining from a 10-year peak of 4,798 in 2008. In 2009 it was 4,098; in 2010, 3,375; in 2011, 3,096.
However, it’s not only the number of cases that justifies one deputy, it’s the type. The vast majority of cases in a small rural town like Princetown are parking and speeding tickets and pose little security threat. In fact, before 2008 the court had no security detail — although state troopers were regularly there because they were prosecuting their own tickets, a practice that has been stopped.
Van Woert objects to having only one deputy and, citing security concerns, has cancelled criminal court sessions since the detail was cut. The county Sheriffs Benevolent Association also objects (predictably: law enforcement officers always like to work in pairs, especially when overtime is involved) and has complained to Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, who says he will pull the detail altogether come December.
Van Woert and Dagostino should relent. But if they don’t, Joyce has other options. They include the state Office of Court Administration, which provides security for other towns in the area such as neighboring Duanesburg, as well as private security firms. Either could provide perfectly adequate security, and be significantly cheaper, with one or even two guards. Only one is needed, though.