December 5, 2021

County OKs central arraignment

Cortland Standard file photo

The Cortland City Courthouse is shown in this December 2016 file photo.

A plan for centralized arraignment in Cortland County to meet state justice reform laws will move forward after the state Office of Court Administration addressed the county district attorney’s concern over having attorneys at arraignments.

“I believe all issues have been resolved,” County Attorney Karen Howe said Thursday during a special Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting.

The plan passed the committee, 5-0. Legislators Doug Bentley (D-Cortland) and Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) were absent.

District Attorney Patrick Perfetti had withheld his endorsement pending an opinion from the Office of Court Administration that he could continue a practice of having prosecutors forward their bail recommendations to the court, rather than appear in person, which he got.

With the issues resolved and all other parties on board the plan can now move forward, Howe said later in the evening.

The resolution establishing the plan was then approved 14-0 at the Legislature meeting. Bentley, Harbin and Chad Poli (R-Cortland) were absent.

The plan has been in the works for months to better deal with a state requirement to have counsel at first appearance, particularly when court normally isn’t in session.

It was also a recommendation by the Vera Institute of Justice, which provided a free study to find ways the county could reduce the number of inmates in the county jail, which has been consistently overcrowded for more than 20 years.

The plan would conduct criminal arraignments in Cortland City Court hours during normal hours. But during off hours, such as nights and weekends, a rotation of municipal judges would hear arraignments at the Cortland County Jail rather than potentially waiting days for a municipal court to convene.

That plan requires the approval of every police department that works in Cortland County as well as the county attorney, district attorney, public defender and Cortland County Magistrates Association.

However, Perfetti initially said at a Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting earlier this month that he would not support the plan because several municipal judges told him they want to see prosecutors at arraignment, although the draft plan doesn’t specifically require them. That would put an added strain on his office, which he said is already understaffed.

When there is an off-hours arraignment now, Perfetti said, a law enforcement agency will call his office for a bail recommendation, which the officer gives to the judge.

He is happy to continue that practice. With an OK from the Office of Court Administration he will be able to do so.

“This was a long time coming and two check marks on the Vera Report, I’m excited,” said Legislator Kelly Preston (R- Homer).

The plan would take effect Jan. 1.