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Failure of an assistant DA to show up backs up cases in Gouverneur Town Court

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GOUVERNEUR — The absence of a St. Lawrence County assistant district attorney during Gouverneur Town Court proceedings has caused cases to pile up, according to court officials.

On Nov. 7, Judge Stanley H. Young Jr. had to adjourn at least 13 cases for lack of a prosecutor, according to court documents.

Court Clerk Lauri A. Andrews said while the Town Court was notified several days in advance that Assistant District Attorney James L. Monroe would be unable to make the scheduled court date, Judge Young called District Attorney Nicole M. Duve’s office requesting a replacement who never appeared.

“And this isn’t an isolated incident,” Mrs. Andrews said. “It does get upsetting because things get delayed, and not just for the courts but for the defendant and everyone involved.”

Cases on the Nov. 7 docket awaiting a plea offer from the absent prosecutor had to be adjourned to December and January. The Town Court also was without an assistant district attorney on June 13 and Oct. 3.

Mrs. Andrews said the court has seen a number of ADAs over the years who have been rotated through the court and not always appeared when scheduled.

“When a defense attorney calls the court asking if an ADA is going to be present, I tell them they are supposed to be here but never expect an appearance,” Mrs. Andrews said.

But Ms. Duve said this is all news to her. She said if Judge Young reached out to her office, she was not made aware of it and she was not aware that her assistants have not attended court proceedings.

“If there was a problem with the coverage in Gouverneur Court, nobody took the time to bring it to my attention, so I am unaware of it and as far as I am concerned it didn’t happen,” Ms. Duve said. “All I can say is that the ADAs are pulled in a lot of directions and they do the best they can to cover the courts that they are assigned to, and sometimes they are assigned to be in more than one place at a time and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Moreover, Ms. Duve said, there are times when it wouldn’t matter if a court called for an assistant to cover a court date, as her office is understaffed.

“If I don’t have anybody to cover, I don’t care how much notice they give me; I don’t have anybody to cover,” Ms. Duve said. “If the ADAs that are left are already committed to other courts, I’ve got nobody to send, because a lot of these courts meet at the same time.”

Judge Young has taken on an increased caseload since the death of Gouverneur Judge John W. Riordan, according to Fowler Town Judge Paul M. Lamson, a representative of the St. Lawrence County Magistrates Association. On Nov. 7, Judge Young was handling a caseload with 207 charges.

“With a court of Gouverneur’s size, if they don’t have an ADA they have a problem,” Judge Lamson said. “Right now Judge Young’s calendar is in the 200 to 300 caseload, and there is only one judge until Jan.1, and without an ADA, you are really screwed on a lot of the criminal cases.”

Not all of those cases are criminal, Judge Lamson added; however, the criminal cases do exceed 100.

In addition to creating a backlog of cases, the absence of an assistant district attorney wastes county resources when deputies have to transport inmates to and from the jail in Canton only to find their cases cannot be heard, Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said.

“I didn’t get any report back until after the fact (on Nov. 7) saying we transported somebody over there, the public defender showed up and nobody from the DA’s office showed up,” Sheriff Wells said. “That takes my patrol away from something else they should be doing.”

The problem occurs multiple times throughout the year throughout the county, the sheriff said.

“We get all the way there and then we are told by the court that they don’t need us,” he said.

Ms. Duve’s office isn’t always to blame for those adjourned cases, Sheriff Wells said. There have been times when defense attorneys are unable to make it and fail to communicate that to the jail, making communication the core of the issue.

“Nothing can happen without the inmate, but also you need the rest of the players there, so sometimes it is a challenge,” Sheriff Wells said. “We have meetings about this all of the time, because it has always been a concern of ours, but it still happens on occasion (and) there is no reason. The jail is there 24/7; it can always be communicated with … and that is all it takes, is some communication.”

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