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Court overflow vexes Massena officials

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MASSENA - A 2-year-old and 5-year-old ran through the first floor of Massena Town Hall Tuesday, creating noise in municipal offices along the way.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the youngsters’ mother was upstairs in Massena court at the time. The children were eventually reunited with their mother, but their adventure through town offices is indicative of a larger problem of court overflow in the building, he said.

Town and village offices are on the building’s first floor, while the court is on the second. On court days, the town’s front steps are often full of individuals waiting for their time before the judge of for the court appearances of their relatives and friends, Mr. Gray said.

While other local town halls also house both a court and municipal offices, most aren’t as busy as Massena and don’t create as much overflow, Mr. Gray said. The court crowd is prompting town officials to consider measures to police and enforce the front entrance and first floor.

“I just don’t feel people coming to town hall, whether it is to pay taxes, or visit the town clerk ... I don’t think that work should be interrupted by overflow from the town court,” Mr. Gray said.

During Tuesday’s rainstorm, some court visitors blocked the building’s front doorway and smoked close to the entrance.

“That’s not fair to the people who work in the building,” he said. “It’s common courtesy and common respect.”

“If you don’t want to smoke in the thunder and lightning, then don’t smoke,” he added. “Put out your damn cigarette.”

The village court docket this week featured approximately 140 cases. The village court sessions start at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, and the court docket typically has between 100 and 125 cases. Court officials estimate 80 to 85 percent are criminal cases, with the remainder being vehicle and traffic law violations.

There are two court sessions on Wednesdays, with the exception of the first Wednesday of each month. A combined town-village court session begins at 1:30 p.m.and a second town court is held at 5:30 p.m. The afternoon docket typically include 50 to 75 cases, mostly criminal, and the evening session usually has 100 to 120 cases.

Town board members are considering several options. One would be to post a sign of rules near the front doors. Another would be to send the court officer down to the first floor for occasional walkthroughs or retain village police for a similar patrol.

Town officials took no action on the issue at Wednesday night’s meeting but plan to revisit it at a later point. Board members want to ensure the second floor is safe if the court officer steps away to walk through the first floor.

“Either someone has got to come down there and police the area or we’ve got to make other provisions,” Councilman Albert N. Nicola said. “I think it’s a major problem.”

Mayor James F. Hidy said the village government was also interested in finding a solution.

“Periodic monitoring from the court officer certainly would help,” he said.

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