Dennis A. Delano hasn’t been on the job as Cheektowaga town justice since Feb. 25 for unknown reasons, and town officials are trying to find out how long he will be out so they can determine if someone is needed to fill in for him.
Town officials learned through Delano’s court clerk that he will be out for an undetermined period of time, according to Council Member Diane Benczkowski and Council Member Jerry Kaminski, who head the Town Board’s Committee on Police and Courts.
Kaminski has tried to reach Delano to determine how long he will be absent from court and why, Benczkowski said, but Kaminski has received no response.
“We want him to let us know why he’s out and how long he will be out, whether it will be months, weeks or another day,” she said. “We need to know so we can plan.”
She added that if his absence is long term, the town can hire another justice to fill in until he returns.
“We understand that people sometimes have personal issues, and we are compassionate. But we just want to know how long he will be out,” she said.
The Buffalo News left a message with Delano’s clerk, seeking his comment, but he did not respond.
In the meantime, Supervisor Mary Holtz has asked Administrative Judge Paula L. Feroleto of the Eighth Judicial District of State Supreme Court what the town can do about Delano’s absence.
Feroleto said she received a call from Holtz about the situation. She said she understands that the other Cheektowaga town justice, Paul S. Piotrowski, has indicated he can handle the full court calendar for now.
She said she told town officials that if they reach a point where Piotrowski can no long handle the court calendar by himself, they should submit a formal request in writing for help, and she will appoint another town or village judge to assist on a temporary basis.
She said the town would be responsible for paying the temporary judge on a per diem basis.
Feroleto said she has had to appoint temporary judges to fill in about a half-dozen times during her four years as administrative judge.
If the town has to hire a temporary judge to fill in for Delano, Benczkowski said that would be an extra expense.
“We would have to find extra dollars,” she said.
She said she is concerned that with Delano’s absence, the town may see a reduction in its revenue from court cases.
“Traffic court generates tens of thousands of dollars a week in fines, and we may lose it,” she said.
She also is worried that some of Delano’s court cases will have to be dismissed if they are not handled within legal time limits.
She also expressed concern for public safety.
“Criminals and drug dealers may still be walking the streets because we can’t arraign them” in a timely manner, she said.
In the meantime, she said Delano continues to receive his annual salary of $74,960, “whether he is on the job or not.”
“He is a public servant,” she said. “He needs to answer to the taxpayers.”
Benczkowski said the Town Board cannot order Delano to return to work.
“The Town Board is not his boss,” she said. “The taxpayers and voters are his boss.”
Delano, a retired Buffalo police detective elected to a four-year term as town justice in November 2010, has not said if he will run for re-election this year.
Former Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski has indicated he will run for town justice and will challenge Delano in the September Democratic primary.
Piotrowski said he has been working double duty, handling Delano’s cases and his own.
He said he has informed the Town Board he doesn’t need help at this point.
“I feel sufficiently strong enough to continue,” he said. “I will keep them informed of how I’m doing.”
He said he may eventually request relief, “depending how long this continues.”