Friday, November 14, 2008

Cool justice in a 12 oz. can

You’re hammering toward the Batchellerville Bridge at midnight on a Saturday evening, fresh from a deuce of tequila shots at the Sport Island Pub. You’re six deep into the 18-rack of Keystone Light riding shotgun, when you suddenly get the insatiable urge to pound back five or six more. The first five go great and you’re feeling rather plucky. You reach for a sixth brew and dash across the Edinburg town line at 75 mph, cracking the cool can open just about the same time as the state trooper cruiser behind you lights up like the Northville Christmas tree.

Several unhappy moments later, you’re in the Edinburg Town Court sporting a pair of silver bracelets courtesy of New York’s finest. They’re free for the time being and are the only thing keeping the 0.25 percent of your blood from goading your brain into a rash decision you might regret after a few hours of sobriety and an over-sugared Stewart’s double large. An hour passes and you’re feeling almost sober when the trooper informs you that there’s no town justice available for arraignment purposes and you’ll need to sleep it off at Saratoga County lockup.

The sun is starting to poke over the evergreens in Ballston Spa when the bailiff finally checks you into you’re tax-funded lodging for the next few hours. He looks disinterested until he spots your last name on the paperwork.

“Hey, I voted for you!” he exclaims. “You’re the Edinburg Town Justice.”

Is it legal to arraign yourself? No. Is it OK to run roughshod across the law books if you’re a town justice? Not in the least bit. Can you rack up enough felonies to buy yourself a two- to five-year prison sentence and still sit on the bench arraigning people? Fuck yeah!

Just ask Brian Kedik, the fledgling Edinburg town justice. Fresh from his Election Day coup and still facing grand larceny charges, the 32-year-old unopposed Republican town justice apparently had enough booze on board to draw the ire of the state park police near the Spa City’s Avenue of Pines. The arrest followed another in October, which stemmed from Kedrik allegedly cashing a forged check he allegedly heisted from his in-laws.

To his credit, Kedik claims the forgery and grand larceny charges are a factor of a pissed-off ex trying to wreck havoc on his life. But it’s tough to sympathize with the guy when he’s getting a felony DWI four hours before happy hour on a Tuesday. At this point, most rational-minded people would ask, “Is this guy qualified for this post?”

Simply put, yes. To be a town or village justice in New York takes only three things: 18 years of life, residency in the municipality you wish to run and a pulse, even if it’s a barely detectable one. The first two requirements are by law, the last is by practicality. After all, it’s a bit difficult to dispense god-like justice down on a court of unscrupulous miscreants if you’re on the receiving end of a defibrillator shock.

Sadly, most state residents think the homely figure clad in black robes and sitting perched in court room has a clue about the law, legal procedure or the repercussions thereof. And in some cases, they may. But as a whole, town and village justices don’t have the foggiest clue about the law,aside from a few weeks of training and what they’ve learned by trial and error. In fact, roughly 70 percent –that’s 70 percent –of New York town and village justices have positively no legal background whatesoever.

Mind you, these are judges that regularly preside over felony arraignments and can issue sentences of up to two years. Granted, higher crimes are always relegated to the county courts, where judges are usually highly trained and highly knowledgeable of the law. This doesn’t change the fact that the opening moments of some very serious cases can sometimes be administered in a court room without a recording device and presided by someone who could very well be awaiting trial on their own felony charges.

Outgoing Chief Judge Judith Kaye realized this somewhere beneath the densely calcified strata of her thick skull. At one point late in her career, she argued New York’s justice system was far too convoluted to provide for the people. And like most administrators do, she commissioned a study.

The focus was on consolidating the 11 layers of the state’s cumbersome court system. Other states have done it; Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to name a few. Instead of relying on laypeople to administer justice, these states hand the keys of law over to trained professionals, who preside over county districts instead of townships or villages.

When someone is arrested or charged with a crime in the district court system, they’re brought to a real court instead of town hall, or in some backwoods areas, a highway garage. Court documents are kept in a centralized location, easily accessible during business hours instead of in a locked filing cabinet that may or may not be accessible, depending on who the judge is or if there’s a clerk who functions during waking hours.

Kaye took up the case of justice courts in 2006 and sent out a commission to study the issue for a year. But when the study came back, it suggested just about everything except overhauling and consolidating the court system. Instead, it suggested New York invest more than $50 million over five years into the floundering justice courts so that they would all have real computers and court security; so that clerks and justices could have a few more weeks of training.

Pumping money into the justice court system is like pumping money into a rusted 1976 Chevette with 300,000 miles on the odometer: It’s a miracle it’s got you this far, but you’re probably better off cutting your losses. All the modern gadgets, training and security in the world isn’t going to make a justice like Kedik look any better on the bench.

But even a mere mention of ditching the justice court system raises the hackles of the old-timers and libertarians, who feel the law is better served by the people themselves. Take for instance a useless ham-hock named G. Jeffrey Haber, who has served as the executive director of New York’s Association of Towns since the dawn of time. His organization has been one of the most powerful defenders of the archaic justice court system and would go to bat for it.

“If it came up, we would take the same position that we did before,” he told the New York Times in 2006.

Go to bat for it? Why? So folks like Kedik can deliver hypocrisy from the bench? Or is it so these individual towns can maintain their private fiefdoms that cull hundreds of thousands of dollars from normally law-abiding citizens? But let’s not single out Kedik too much, since he hasn’t been found guilty, unlike many other crooked justices that have come down the pike.

There was former Mohawk Justice Roy Dumar of Montgomery County, who was censured after he “repeatedly asserted his judicial office” while attempting to further his own criminal complaints against his wife’s ex-husband and sister-in-law. Or former Ballston Justice Keith Kissinger, who was collected a month’s salary in 2005 even though he was living in South Carolina.

Or Esperance Justice Charles Myles of Schoharie County, a 16-year veteran of the bench who was removed after a jury convicted him on a felony count of falsifying business records in 2006. Myles, who had previously served six months in jail on a probation violation, had bypassed his electric meter to steal more than $3,000 worth of power over a six-year period. He remained on the bench and presided over cases for nearly a year before his conviction barred him from the bench.

Strangely, about 70 percent of the judges censured by the state’s Unified Court System were so-called municipal justices. That’s about the same amount of town and village justices that lack any verifiable law training.

Kaye could have changed all this, or at least tried. She was the only chief judge in recent memory to throw a few harsh words toward the justice court system during her tenure, even if they were prompted by even harsher words printed in a state Comptroller’s audit. But instead of touching a match to the powder keg, Kaye chose battle for the state’s trained justices in their quest for raises. In other words, who cares about those being maligned by the justice system itself, as long as the judges administering it have a good salary.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Kedik sounds like the newly appointed Saratoga city court judge! Except his drunk daughter isn't with him!

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One very positive aspect of the upcoming state fiscal crisis is that with any luck we can avoid giving raises to state judges (or legislators), no matter how much they whine, wail, sue and otherwise make asses of themselves, despite already earning several time the average New York wage. If you don't like it, Judge Judy et al., then bite down on your black robes and lump it, or light out like Huck Finn for the territory, but for God's sake cease your embarrassing caterwauling.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

1:11,

Wait is City Court judge. Like it or not, you're going to have to accept it.

2:06,

I agree completely. I refuse to see how $136,000 isn't a liveable wage in this day. Kaye's argument was that we won't get quality judges running for office if we don't up the pay. That says a lot of the third district's judges, seeing as though ALL them ran for a second term this year.

As I intimated in my post, she wasted her time crying for a raise and didn't do a goddamn thing to get one. Kaye KNEW how badly the justice court needed overhauling, but chose instead to throw a coat of lacquer over it with the BS study and then called it a day. And she wants a raise for that? Go another 10 years without one, I say.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

After reading this, why am I conjuring up images of the crooked mechanic/county sheriff from National Lampoon's Vacation?

And to Brian Kedik... cheers!

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is this blog so slow? Not only is it one sided it is slow to post anything!

3:02 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

One-sided? Do explain. This should be good!

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

haha thanks for the laugh

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

demroc said: i had a tough go in the town of ballston spa courts. about 5 years ago i had this slumlord wayne bakken as my landlord. he left most of the apartment in disrepair and when something major happened like broken pipes, you were lucky to get someone over to fix it within a couple of days. so i was refusing to pay for rent until the stuff was fixed. he wanted to evict me so he took me to town court were the unhonorable tom schreoder presided. i had the building code enforcer, randy loyd come by the apartment and assure me that he was personal friends with the judge and he would make a case for us. what a hose job, i got from him. come court time he was no where to be found, the acting city attorney was the other guys lawyer, stephen connors. i should have known with all the D&H signs that a railroad job was coming. it turns out since i can't prove the building is undercode (code enforcer a no show) that i have to now pay for this clowns lawyer as well as the arrears. now the best part is, this other lawyer, richard kupfferman also a town lawyer and county lawyer owed me money he had lost in a saratoga small claims, he was still refusing to cough up the money months later. i'm sure they were all talking about that money and trying to get it, i guess he was telling connors that he owed me the money. here's the best part, i went to appeal this small town justice, but there are no records of the preceding. none period. sorry, you'll never prove to anyone what happened behind those doors. makes you wonder, what if it was actually something serious?

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HA-

I admire your musings and was expecting ANON 4:46 to be a dolt.

But he/she is SPOT-ON. You want to know corruption? Look no further than our amiable and lovable JUDGE MILLS...and the stern Judicial reprimands directed at this omnipotent Village Idiot--

http://www.scjc.state.ny.us/Determinations/M/mills,_douglas.htm

Recently he's done it again and the Judiciary Committee may beat him like a Gypsy's tambourine. More likely, the Good 'Ol Boys will let him retire in glorious peace.

But he's the PosterBoy for Judicial Arrogance and Unaccountability.

I sympathize with ANON 4:46 and I can only pray for the day when our quaint home-spun local "JUSTICES" get called forth to defend their acts.

If you've ever argued before them as ANON 4:46 as done, you've seen Justice at its worst.

I've yet to appear before Judge Wait. If he is a Good Judge and a Good Human... he will be a one-in-a-million.

Again, go back and see how the State almost hurled Judge Mills out the door for his irresponsible and arbitrary abuse of the rights of us small people--

http://www.scjc.state.ny.us/Determinations/M/mills,_douglas.htm

Whether Dorsey or Wait, we CAN do BETTER. And a little newspaper coverage might help. But they won’t. So you must.

HA-
You’ve struck a Gold Mine. You got ONE good response. The rest of your readers are obsessed with fires in LA. Or Obama on "6O MINUTES." But they CAN contribute. Or not.

Keep up the good fight. And spend a day or two in City Court. DOERN is a supremely decent man, MILLS is an unpredictable psycho maniac... and I believe passionately in both Wait and Dorsey. Watch victorious Jeff, when time allows. And keep him honest.

Demroc 4:46 knows more than any Supreme Court Justice. I hope you might follow-up with a post for those who've suffered horribly from these "meaningless" and "lacquered-over" Courts.

You and DemRoc are BOTH right. And I can only hope the posts will offer a forum for those who've been denied the most basic tenets of Justice.


-Judge Gutless Gindsburg & Scalia

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

demroc said: well thanks for holding reservation on me being an idiot judge gutless. but just to surmise for a second, the crux of my story from the ballston spa court system is the fact that all these people work together. it all seemed choreographed, small town justice. like they all had lunch together before the hearing. at least if mills calls someone an asshole there is a recording of the preceedings. dolt or not "makes you feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game".

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe it is unfair to name Sport Island Pub as a culprit for this man's reckless behavior. People need to start taking responsibility for their own actions for christ's sake!

10:55 PM  

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