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Pomfret justice candidates debate court operations

October 29, 2011

Editors note: This is the second part of the League of Women Voters debate between the candidates for Pomfret justice.

League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates moderator Marcia Merrins encouraged those in attendance Thursday to submit questions for Pomfret Town Justice candidates David DeJoe and incumbent David Prince as there were very few at the start. There ended up being more than enough to go around.

Similar to all meet the candidates debates, both DeJoe and Prince were given the question of what they felt was the most urgent problem with the Pomfret courts and what they would suggest to fix it.

Prince, who has held the justice position for the past 20 years, said he believes family violence and substance abuse are some of the growing problems facing the courts today. Over his tenure he noted his successful creations of alternatives to incarceration drug court, interim-probation and family counseling. He said he was also instrumental in diverting the town board from buying a new building estimated at $500,000 for a larger facility and instead helped bring the town court to village hall.

"I am a strong supporter of treatment courts, particularly the city of Dunkirk Drug Court," he said, noting he referred its first participant nine years ago. "Ninety percent of the people I've sent to that drug court have graduated and have become good citizens."


The most urgent problem, DeJoe said, is that the court needs to try and save some money to help save programs. If the courts could be consolidated it could free up money to save programs such as the Fredonia-Pomfret Grape Belt Senior Center, as an example, he said.

"I can't be the solution but if I can save money I won't be part of the problem for keeping that senior center open," he said.

Consolidating the courts is not up to the judges, Prince said, noting the town and or village board would have to make that decision.

"As a judge we have no control over the consolidation of the courts," Prince said.

DeJoe rebutted stating that residents can sign petitions to get a question of whether or not the village and town should consolidate the courts on an election ballot.

"People would tell the town board, through their vote, that this is what is to be done," he said.

DeJoe was asked if consolidation would cause delays for people appearing before the court.

Both Fredonia and Pomfret courts handle around 3,500 and 3,000 cases, respectively, according to Prince with court taking place during the day and during the night.

"If we consolidated, the backlog of the number of people that would be here would be astronomical. Why should a defendant for a traffic violation have to sit in court for four or five hours to wait for his turn to be heard," Prince said. "That is one of the bad things I feel would happen with consolidation."

DeJoe offered some suggestions, noting the judges in the town and village split duties and spend about 12 hours on the bench a month in court including prep time.

"I came from a system where every month we had to do more with less," DeJoe said. "It's pretty easy to me. Let's just work a little longer, let's put another couple of days in, let's accommodate the defendants by instead of having one night court and one day court, let's have a couple in each. We can just work a little more."

Prince rebutted, stating he is in village hall court almost every day and by gauging what the case loads are this is the system they have determined.

"As far as being in court, I'm here," Prince stated.

"Then schedule more hours," DeJoe said. "You're here. Schedule more hours ... you have clerks here, bang that gavel, bring them in, let's go."

DeJoe was asked by a submitted question if he knew what the court clerks do on a day-to-day basis to which he answered with no correction by Prince.


The two candidates debated the security of the court. Prince said the security is adequate but nothing is ever 100 percent.

DeJoe said he feels there is no security in village hall and in the courtroom. He said he feels a thumb print time clock should be installed to monitor the time paid employees work as well to be used for document storage access. He also noted the need for a video camera tied directly to the police department monitoring system.

"I raised the money for that system and it was never implemented. Members of the board told me the main resistance to it was Judge Prince didn't want the time clock for his employees," DeJoe said.

"I have two court clerks that both judges use. They're always on time, they're always early to come to work. For someone on the town board and Mr. DeJoe to say we need a time clock to make sure of when they come and go ... no other department in the town has a time clock," Prince said. "If you're going to put a time clock in, you need to put one in all areas not just pick on the court. I feel some of the board members were indicating that the clerks were not doing their job, and that's not true."

"You yourself said you are here from 9 o'clock to 1 o'clock," DeJoe responded. "That's not covering all 35 hours that the girls work. The girls in the village punch a time clock, why should they be different than yours. Your complaint when we had this at the meeting was that Jim Oakes in the highway department didn't punch a time clock. Well, Jim Oakes sees his men, the new highway department superintendent Dan Bigelow, he'll see his men every morning at ten to 7 and send them out on jobs. And he'll see them every day at ten (minutes) to 3 to find out what they did and what they needed to do for new jobs the next day. You admitted you aren't here all 35 hours a week so you can't say when they're here and what they're doing for all 35 hours a week. The taxpayers are owed the 35 hours that they're paying for."

"And the clerks are working 35 hours like they're supposed to," Prince responded. "I trust them."


Both candidates were asked to explain their alternatives to incarceration.

"If we incarcerate someone, for example a family member, we take the bread winner away from the family. ... Sometimes in certain situations a person needs to be incarcerated and sometimes they don't. What I try to do is help them find a solution to their personal problems," Prince said.

For example, Prince said, a few weeks ago a young couple came in who regularly would drink on the weekends and fight and he said they wanted a divorce. Prince offered counseling and they are back together.

"We need to help these people get their lives back together," he added. "But there are certain people that need to be incarcerated."

It would be dependent upon the case, DeJoe said, noting background of the criminal defendant, previous record and family situation.

"Every sentence passed down is different and depends upon the individual," he said.



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