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Legislation would create another full-time Watertown City Court judge

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Court system overburdened? Just add judges, lawmakers say.

City courts around the state are handling an increasing number of cases each year, pressuring judges and creating a pernicious backlog of litigation that threatens to undermine the local court system, according to a periodic assessment of the state’s city courts.

To relieve that pressure, the state Legislature has passed legislation that would increase the number of full-time city judges in the state.

“It will go a long way in helping to expedite and reduce the backlog of caseloads, especially those in relation to felony proceedings, which many times involve drug crimes and family violence,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who voted for the measure.

If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the Uniform City Court Act into law, it would go into effect next April and would convert the Watertown City Court’s part-time judge position, occupied by Judge Catherine J. Palermo, into a full-time position.

The legislation is under review, according to Olympia Sonnier, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

City Council members appointed Judge Palermo in January 2012. She replaced former Judge Eugene R. Renzi after he was elected to the full-time position in November 2011.

The city’s part-time judge is appointed. The full-time judge is elected.

That likely will remain the same, according to the state Office of Court Administration.

Arlene Hackel, spokeswoman for the office, said Judge Palermo’s position would “continue to be an appointive position.”

“Part-time City Court judges serve six-year terms; the length of Judge Palermo’s term will not be affected by this statutory change, so she’ll serve her normal term and move to full-time status effective April 2014,” Ms. Hackel said.

Judge Palermo’s appointment will end in 2018.

The legislation was introduced after state Assembly members commissioned an ad hoc advisory committee to study the city courts.

Committee members found the original allocation of judgeships was not sufficient to deal with the increasing number of caseloads the courts were expected to handle.

“In most instances, that allocation was the product of another, past generation, and instituted when caseloads were smaller and local governments had to bear the cost of City Court operations,” the assessment reads. “It does not reflect the reality of those operations in 2013.”

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