Sag Harbor’s first village justice in decades talks about what it will take to open the Sag Harbor Village Justice Court, the challenges ahead and why her father would be proud of the life she has created for herself.
What did being named the first Sag Harbor Village Justice in decades mean to you as an attorney and judge? Was it any more sweet because of your strong family connections to Sag Harbor?
In every respect it’s an honor – definitely sweetened by my affinity for Sag Harbor. This is a place my grandparents chose for a home at a pivotal time in their lives in 1963, the place where I spent the summers of my life working at Schiavoni’s IGA – now known to me as Uncle Ange’s – at Mashashimuet Park, at the American Hotel and at other restaurants that no longer exist. I learned to swim and sail and ski in the Harbor, and this is the place where I fell in love with Tommy John and where we are raising our children, surrounded by family and everything amazing that Sag Harbor gives her community. So, yes, this is a special honor.
According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, now that you have been appointed village justice, the creation of the court rests largely in your hands. What needs to be accomplished before the court opens its doors?
As we know, our federal government is divided into three branches – the executive, the legislative and the judicial, and these branches perform distinct and separate functions. The same is true for the Village of Sag Harbor, which is the reason for some of the logistic tasks that must initially be accomplished. The court needs a separate and distinct space from other village administration, because there can be no ex-parte communication between the court and village, nor can the village have access to anything inside the court. So, we need to construct a space only accessible by the clerk and justices, where the clerk will work and all files, equipment, etc. will be kept. This construction and division of space will be reviewed by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) for surety.
Additionally, our Chief Clerk and Court Officers will be formally trained, bank accounts will be opened for fines and bail, equipment will be ordered, telephone and fax lines will be installed, the computer system used by courts statewide will be ordered and the clerk and justice will be trained to use it, and safety measures will be employed in these spaces as dictated by OCA. Also, a schedule will need to be set for the Court and Clerk with respect to appearances and payments, based upon the projected numbers of cases. This week our clerk, Leslie Murray, and I are compiling the Sag Harbor cases from both East Hampton and Southampton Justice Courts for 2009 to determine how often the Court will be in session and how those calendars will be organized.
As a justice court, it is my understanding the court in Sag Harbor will handle traffic and village code violations as well as misdemeanor crimes in its docket. What are some of the differences you have seen between town and village justice courts?
Theoretically, the only difference between justice courts should be volume. All justice courts throughout the state must hear vehicle and traffic matters, misdemeanors, parking, small claims, landlord-tenant cases and their respective code violations within their jurisdictions as well as arraignments. But this is a reality that has been criticized in recent years, most articulately by the New York Times, which ran a series of articles outlining the disparate practices in justice courts around the state. As a result, a Justice Court Action Plan was created to require more standardization and training. The justice court system, which predates the Unified Court System in New York, is considered its owns judicial structure, not under the purview of the Office of Court Administration. I took the bench in Southampton in 2008 and so have benefited from the serious steps taken by the Town and Village Justice Court System to conform practices to those of OCA, and these are the practices that will be employed is Sag Harbor’s court.
Are there challenges to running a smaller operation like the village justice court when compared to your duties, and the court’s duties in larger venues, like the Town of Southampton?
As a judge I would say the challenges are the same wherever you sit because we are charged with the same duty – to be fair and serve justice. Every justice court must hear the same kinds of cases, administer those cases by the same rules of court and abide by the same ethical standards. The size of a court’s jurisdiction may be different but that should not determine the caliber of justice found there. As I see it once the Sag Harbor Court is up and running, my job on both benches will be the same, only the volume will change.
How will you balance your time between the justice courts in Southampton and Sag Harbor with the running of your own private practice at Harum and Harum?
Harum and Harum was a firm originally created by you after you partnered with your now deceased father in Florida. What would be his reaction to your success as an attorney and mediator?
Harum and Harum actually began in 1968 by my father and grandfather, it changed names to my father’s when my granddad died and then returned to the name when I joined the firm. My brother, Albert, and I were raised to count our blessings and use them to leave every place better for our having been there. I think Dad is proud that I try to do that, personally and professionally, as a way of life.