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CITY COURTS MUST BE RESTRUCTURED

With regard to the pending New York State City Courts Restructuring Bill (OCA #1) in Albany, this is a plea for help for the state's 61 city courts outside New York City, to ensure that they have enough judges to meet the often substantial and overloaded caseloads they face.

There are some 160 men and women who serve as local judges throughout the state. Theirs is not an easy responsibility, and it grows more difficult each day because of an increasing demand for a more labor-intensive time commitment to each case.

We have come to realize that the complexities of modern life and the terrible impact of drugs and family violence, especially upon our youth, require judges to be much more, thus, the advent of specialty courts such as the Drug Court, the Alcohol Court and the Domestic Violence Court.

We now expect judges to be not merely referees, but also problem-solvers who can find ways to attack the root causes of the cases that come before them, and in so doing, perhaps to prevent their recurrence.

Thus, it is not enough for a judge merely to determine guilt and, if so, to sentence defendants to the punishment the law provides. Judges also must inform themselves of the circumstances of a defendant's addiction, make efforts to get him treatment, find employment or appropriate vocation training and, most importantly, monitor his progress.

Likewise, when a man abuses his wife, judges still must issue protective orders and determine appropriate punishment, but they also must find appropriate services for both the offender and his victim, alcohol or drug rehabilitation, family counseling, suitable shelter and child care facilities, and whatever else is required.

We expect judges to handle these cases with the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. Sometimes, impossibly, we expect them to be tough on criminals while tempering justice with mercy. And this they must do despite the fact that many of them face enormous calendars with hundreds of cases calling for decision each time they sit.

Time is of the essence, so I urge residents to contact their state legislators and ask for their support of this bill to restructure city courts, which will enable them to meet the demands of their caseloads.

HON. JOSEPH J. CASSATA

City Court Judge

Tonawanda

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