It was an old show that made for quirky and funny scenarios, but Night Court is a newly organized and costly theme being played out in Genesee County.
District Attorney Kevin Finnell shared with cou
nty legislators Monday how his slate of assistant district attorneys will answer the call and provide due justice for the county, no matter the time of day or evening.
“It’s a CAP Court arraignment, so, during the call, they'll do any arraignment for any jurisdiction. And then our system is set up so that they will fill out a memorandum and hand it to the responsible attorney the next day together with a copy from the file,” Finnell said, answering a question about how long CAP Court lasts. “It’s supposed to be from 7:30 to 9-9:30, but I'm told, I've talked to some of the judges that they are sometimes there well past that, including up to 11 o'clock. It depends on how arraignments are scheduled and depends on the judge because some are able to process faster than others, until the work is done.”
Judges used to handle arraignments in their own municipalities until New York State more recently put CAP — Centralized Arraignment Part — Court into play, which means that judges and attorneys rotate shifts during after-hours and meet at one primary court, in this case, often at the new Courts Facility in Batavia.
Finnell’s staff is scheduled to provide the public with representation during arraignment even when it happens past the end of the typical work day. His staff will be on a rotating, on-call schedule to take those arraignments and represent the people for cases throughout the county, but at a centralized location, and also at the new arraignment room being built as part of the new county jail facility.
A legislator asked about charges that happened during Darien Lake concerts.
“My understanding is a lot of the Darien Lake charges are a violation of local councils, which wouldn't even make it to CAP Court, but it would certainly, if there's arrests made anywhere in the county, including Darien Lake after business hours, they're going to be part of the CAP agreement,” Finnell said. “If they’re misdemeanors, they're likely going to be appearance tickets, if they're a nonviolent felony, same thing, appearance tickets.
“We’ve tried to do it remotely. We've encouraged law enforcement to call us during the night so we can convey our recommendations,” he said. “But they're not getting to the judges in the proper way, I’ll say, in the way we like them heard, and so I think this is going to help us tremendously.”
County Manager Matt Landers proposed a salary schedule amendment to create a stipend for six of the attorneys in the DA’s office for the purpose of “arriving, showing up and participating in nighttime CAP Court and going to the new arraignment room at the new county jail.
The funds have been budgeted for the 2024 budget for this allocation, Landers said.
“And this was something that was requested by local law enforcement. And something that I think is overdue,” he said. “And we worked through Kevin to make sure that it was a fair, compensation to be in line with what the assistant public defenders do by writing at the same court.”
Finnell’s staff is mostly from this area, with only two exceptions, one person lives in Livingston County and the other in Greece, so they may take longer to get to court during their on-call shifts.
“That’s why I asked how long it’s going to take them, but he said only two lived out of town, and really, it’s about a half hour away, so that’s not too bad,” Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said. “But then if somebody gets arrested in the middle of the night, they’re arraigned in the morning at the City Court, under the CAP Court. So it’s a new kind of way that the courts are really working. And it’s a new dynamic of having public defenders at arraignments at all times, and we need that balance.”
“Everything has changed so much over the last, even five years,” she said.
CAP Court stemmed from the Hurrell-Harring Court of Appeals decision of 2010-11 that granted access to defense counsel at arraignment as a fundamental right. To fulfill this legal requirement, New York Executive Law 832(4)(a) required the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services to “develop and implement a written plan to ensure that each criminal defendant who is eligible for publicly funded legal representation is represented by counsel in person at his or her arraignment.” The eventual plan was unveiled in 2017 and was to be first implemented by April 2023.
On Monday, the Public Service Committee approved the county’s plan of additional compensation of $15,000 each annually for night appearances of the six assistant district attorneys at $576.92 per pay period effective Nov. 20, to be prorated at $11,180 for each of the six in 2023.
The committee also approved a 3 percent increase in prosecutorial services effective Jan. 1, 2024, through Dec. 31, 2026, taking the rate from $68,917 in 2024 to $70,985 in 2025 and $73,115 in 2026.
Both measures will go to the county Legislature for a final vote.