Sag Harbor attorney Patricia Weiss has sued the Village of Sag Harbor over the village’s creation of the elective office of village justice and the appointed position of acting village justice.
This is not the first time Weiss has filed suit against the village in connection to the justice court. In 2006, she was successful in halting the creation of a village justice court, after the New York State Supreme Court ruled the village had not officially passed a resolution creating the court. Last fall, village officials revived talks about creating a court in Sag Harbor and in May took the first step in that process by creating the position of village justice after six months of public hearings.
In a suit filed with the United States District Court’s East District clerk this week, Weiss charges that the creation of the positions, both of which can be filled by individuals who are non-lawyers and who have not been law-trained and yet can nevertheless incarcerate persons coming before a Sag Harbor Village Justice court, is a violation of Weiss’s constitutional rights.
Weiss argues that under New York State law, legislation has yet to be adopted that would ensure the positions were filled by law-trained attorneys, and while the elected term for village justice would be four years, the state only provides training for two weeks per year, with a limited bit of unsupervised home-study.
Such limited training is inadequate for the functions of Village Justice, writes Weiss.
Weiss argues the creation of a less adequate justice court in Sag Harbor, when the town courts have the resources and training to handle cases currently, deprives her of her constitutional rights.
She also charges in creating the office of justice this May, the village deliberately selected a date that would be out of sync with village elections, depriving the electorate the right to at least one elected village justice. Weiss states that the village and county’s registers for recent elections are outdated, making it impossible for a resident to collect the necessary 20 percent of village resident signatures required to force an election on the establishment of village justice. She also charges the village does not intend to properly finance or house the proposed justice court and that the use of the Municipal Building as a justice court could compromise the structural integrity of the historic building.
All of these charges, says Weiss, are violations of her constitutional rights.
Weiss asks the court to prohibit the village from making judicial appointments or accepting nominating petitions from non-lawyers while her case is being heard, and if successful asks the court to demand any justice for the village court be law-trained, and elected by village voters. She also asks the village provide an “accurate list of registered voters in the village who are still residents and eligible to vote and have voted in the last gubernatorial or presidential election” and allow her 30 days to gather signatures to force a vote on the creation of village justice.
On Wednesday, Weiss declined to comment on the case, except to say the “matter is now in the very capable hands of judge Joseph Bianco.”
Village officials, however, were not so mum.
“We had ample public hearings and at no point, other than when
Marshall Garypie spoke, did Patty or anyone else for that matter, make any comments about this,” said Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride. “This is going to cost the village money to defend and maybe that is her goal. It’s sad that she had the chance to speak in a public process. She chose not to do that and instead inflict monetary pain on the residents of Sag Harbor.”
Deputy mayor Tiffany Scarlto echoed the sentiment, adding many of the issues Weiss has raised are constitutional issues with state law, not village law, and that she expects the state attorney general’s office will get involved with the case.
“The biggest disappointment, personally, is that the village is going to once again have to expend a great deal of money to defend a lawsuit that is unnecessary and for all intents and purposes is about state law,” said Scarlato.