BATH | Caseloads in Steuben County’s centralized arraignment system are greatly exceeding estimates presented by state officials -- and county leaders say the burden and costs of operating the system are only going to increase.
The separate CAP court was created as a result of new state requirements that defendants be arraigned, with counsel present, soon after arrest. The system has deputies transport those charged with a crime to the county courthouse in Bath for arraignment -- allowing prosecutors and public defenders to handle cases in a single location rather than attempting to staff town and village courts around the county, which could have cost county taxpayers millions to hire the necessary attorneys.
But those plans were based on state assumptions about how many cases would need to go through the centralized systems. County officials say those assumptions were off the mark.
“Our numbers are way above what was projected,” District Attorney Brooks Baker said Monday in a meeting of the Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee.
He said what state Office of Court Administration (OCA) officials suggested would be a few sessions of CAP court a week has turned into every day, and sometimes twice per day.
The strain on the system means that deputies assigned to the courts are often asked to take on clerical and other duties to keep cases moving.
“The load that should have been borne by OCA has shifted to the Sheriff’s Office,” Baker told the committee.
Also during Monday's meeting, Baker requested permission to hire at least one new assistant district attorney and one paralegal to meet the requirements of a change in state law.
The new change to criminal procedure law requires what’s known as “discovery” -- the complete files of evidence collected against a criminal defendant -- to be given to the defense in every case beginning Jan. 1.
Baker said in the past that information has only been turned over when a case goes to trial -- about 50 times per year.
The new law would require the files to be turned over to defendants in every felony case -- about 1,000 per year in Steuben County -- every misdemeanor case -- several thousand more per year -- and even traffic violation cases -- tens of thousands per year.
The state isn’t offering any financial help in meeting the new requirements.
“They have given us no funding,” Baker said.
He noted that meeting the requirements will ultimately require more than just the two new positions he requested, even with the adoption of new technology to make the process as paperless as possible.
“Do we have space for those people?,” Legislator Scott Van Etten of Caton asked.
“No,” Baker replied immediately.
Baker asked for and received permission to begin interviewing candidates while the Legislature considers approving the hires.
“I’ve got to train people and be up and running Jan. 1,” he noted.
The addition of computers and other equipment to reduce the associated paperwork is estimated at $45,000, which will be taken from funds already budgeted for the District Attorney's Office.