Drastic changes could be coming to Southold Town Justice Court as a group of town employees begins a search for new ways of restructuring and improving court safety.
Members of the newly formed committee are contemplating everything from hiring more court officers to moving all Justice Court proceedings from the current location at Town Hall into a new building, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said.
“Those are all possibilities,” he said. “This group is going to present a menu of options to the Town Board. They are being very expeditious and exploring all the options. They are getting together regularly, so, I don’t think it’s going to take very long to come up with a menu.”
The committee’s formation comes as Southold Town’s only court officer, Donato Cappabianca, announced his intent to resign before the end of the year. Weeks before telling the Town Board he would be leaving his part-time civil service post, Mr. Cappabianca wrote a letter to members about security concerns in the courtroom.
In the letter, Mr. Cappabianca described situations where he needed to take knives away from defendants since there are no security checks or a metal detector prior to them entering the courtroom.
One of the committee’s first actions was to apply for a grant from the New York State Unified Court System requesting up to $30,000 to purchase safety equipment, including a metal detector, said Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who serves as the committee’s liaison to the Town Board along with Councilman Jim Dinizo.
“We have all been aware of safety issues in the court,” Ms. Doherty said. “It comes up all the time and it really comes down to finances. Even though we need to find more money and spend more money to do this, we need to do this.”
The town is currently advertising for a court officer and is in the process of establishing two additional positions, Ms. Doherty.
“It is suggested that when you have a metal detector you need three court officers,” she said. “We only have one position right now. I’m going through the process to have civil service allow us to have three positions. It doesn’t mean that we are going to hire two new people right away, but we want to get it set up for the future.”
The committee is also entertaining the idea of moving the Justice Court into a separate building from Town Hall, Mr. Russell said.
“Holding justice court in Town Hall presents a lot of challenges, not the least of which is the strain it puts on the facility, with the sheer number of people that are there [when court is in session],” he said. “In the past we have looked at a separate facility that would be set up to be just a justice court, but given the financial climate at the time it was not feasible. This is what that group would be looking into now.”
Ms. Doherty said the committee is also looking into other, short-term solutions to beef up security at the Justice Court. Examples would be changing the way people file into the courtroom, she said.
Until a replacement for his civil service position is found ,Mr. Cappabianca said he would remain on the job, Mr. Russell said.