The New York State Legislature has approved legislation to add a third County Judge for Tompkins County. Passed by both houses of the Legislature at the end of the legislative session, the legislation currently awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature. [UPDATE: The legislation has now been signed by Governor Cuomo].
Creation of a third Tompkins County judgeship was first recommended in 2016 by the County’s Municipal Courts Task Force and has been urged by County legislative leaders since that time. The bill to create the third Tompkins County Judge position, along with three additional Supreme Court justices in New York City, was sponsored in the Assembly by local Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.
“I’m very pleased to have championed the passage of this bill by the legislature, which will create a third county court judge for Tompkins County,” Assemblywoman Lifton said. “The number of judges has not kept pace with the growth of the county's population over the years, producing an overly heavy caseload for our judges and longer waits in jail. Increasing the number of Tompkins County court judges from two to three will result in more balanced caseloads and a more efficient court system. This legislation only allows four new judges across the entire state, and I’m extremely pleased that Tompkins County will get one of them.”
“Tompkins County’s population has grown 60% in the 50 years since we last had an increase in the number of judges, and we have needed this new court to make our local criminal justice system function more fairly and efficiently,” said Martha Robertson, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature. “We are deeply grateful for Assemblywoman Lifton’s advocacy in making the case to Legislative leadership, together with a broad coalition including Senators Tom O’Mara and Pam Helming, Presiding Justice Elizabeth Garry and Administrative Judge Molly Fitzgerald, and many strong local advocates as well.”
Senator Tom O’Mara said, “I am extremely pleased that we have moved forward this year on securing a third judge for Tompkins County. It is long overdue and has severely compromised the judicial process in the county. This third judgeship will significantly enhance the process, expedite caseloads and combat overcrowding in local jails.”
"County Court Judges play a critical role in our judicial system,” noted Senator Pam Helming. “With Tompkins County's continued population growth, it was clear that we needed a third judge to help balance the caseload and ensure that trials could be scheduled in a timely manner.”
Hon. Elizabeth Garry, Presiding Justice of the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department, said, “The local legislative leaders, with Martha Robertson at the helm, clearly documented the need for additional judicial personnel, and then worked tirelessly to follow up and gain support. I am grateful that our State Legislature has supported our community in this manner, and I look forward to working with our new judge!”
“This is such important news. It will support everything else we have been working on here with our criminal justice system, and substantially improve the Judges' caseloads in Family Court,” added Rich John, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. “There will be real impact. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen.”
Ithaca Attorney Raymond Schlather led the Tompkins County Municipal Courts Task Force, which first recommended the third County Judge. “This will relieve some of the pressure on our local criminal justice system,” he said. “It is a critical step in implementing some of the recommendations of the Task Force. At the end of the day, everyone in our community will be better served because of this development. Although the Task Force may have made the case for a third County Judge, it only is happening because of the collective efforts of many key community leaders.”
"The creation of a third county court judgeship for Tompkins County is an extraordinary once in a century legislative achievement,” stated Judge Scott Miller, Ithaca City Court, Acting Tompkins County Court, and member of the Municipal Courts Task Force. “The speed of this successful lobbying effort that only just began in July of 2016 is remarkable. The need for this position was identified as essential to improving the quality of justice for victims, defendants and families in Tompkins County. Once the new judge can get to work on the large backlog of criminal, family and civil cases, the public will see immediate and tangible benefits."
Tompkins County Court judges preside over the Family Court, County Court, Surrogate’s Court, and five specialized courts: Family Treatment Court, Sexual Offender Supervision Court, Felony Drug Treatment Court, Integrated Domestic Violence Court, and the new Wellness and Recovery Court, established this spring. In addition, they serve in an acting capacity to assist in managing the Supreme Court caseload in Tompkins County. In a briefing memo to State leaders, the County identified the specialized courts as critical to the County’s suite of Alternatives to Incarceration programs, describing lack of a third court to efficiently process cases as one of the major remaining barriers to moving people quickly through the county court system and out of the jail.
The law will take effect as soon as it is signed by the Governor, with election for the judgeship in this November’s General Election and the judge to be seated in January.