December 22, 2008

Family Court Consolidation A Reality?

I had the opportunity to catch the Niagara County Legislature's budget meeting from last week on cable. While sifting through the usual politicking, I did catch one very interesting nugget of information from Niagara Falls Legislator Dennis Virtuoso.

Virtuoso has been a critic of budgeting for assigned counsel (since he became a member of the minority and is no longer “responsible” for paying bills). But as any reasonably intelligent person knows, the County is mandated to pay for attorneys for poor persons involved in various family court matters, including custody disputes. Since the County has no control over the number of custody cases filed, it stands to reason that it has no control over the number of cases assigned.

But the County, in the last couple of years, has placed attorneys on staff with a salary to help reduce the number of cases assigned to private attorneys to avoid paying the mandated hourly rate.

One of the difficulties in controlling these expenses is the structure of the family court in Niagara County. There are three family courts in the county. Erie County, on the other hand, has one. We've touched on the need for consolidation of the family courts before, but were stunned to hear Virtuoso state that we have too many family courts and we should consolidate. Why? Because Virtuoso is so parochial in his thinking, we never thought he'd be willing to move family court out of Niagara Falls.

Realistically, there is no reason that we need a family court in Niagara Falls. Virtuoso knows this and I give him credit for having the backbone to acknowledge that consolidation is necessary. The family court in Niagara Falls is a drain on our resources. There is no reason that the people of Niagara Falls can’t drive to the County seat to resolve their family issues on the taxpayer dime.

With both the Minority Leader and the Majority Leader on the same page on this issue, we're hopeful that we see consolidation of the family courts moving forward soon.


Paladin said...

Even a broken clock...

Actually, Virtuoso does, every so often, have his moments, and this looks to be one of them. In the 1960s, when not everyone owned a car, having government's offices spread around the county made sense. In 2009, however, it doesn't. I just increases costs to taxpayers. Additional buildings and utilities, mileage charges, etc.

While praising Virtuoso for his wisdom is somewhat new territory for us, we give him 2 1/2 cheers on this front.

We'll be looking forward to his resolution to accomplish this worthy goal.

Frank DeGeorge said...

This is rigth on and kudos to Hobbes for ackknowleding Dennis' leadership here...if indeed he follows through. This consolidation of courts is long overdue. You know there will be some people who complain about the drive to centralized courts but the fact is this is the norm in most places.

It takes no longer to drive from Niagara Falls to Lockport than it does to go from Orchard Park to Buffalo.

Centralized courts have worked fine in Erie County and Niagara should follow suit.

Michael Kicinski for Mayor said...

As a Democrat, I often find myself embarrassed by the silliness that my side engages in. But I'm proud of Dennis V. today. This i sthe kind of reaching across the isle that Ive wanted to see from my guys. And if it will cut taxes Im all for it. I hope he is a man of hisd word.

George Lodick said...

I am all for consolidation, but isn't Erie County's situation slightly different.

Buffalo is Erie's county seat as well the urban center. In Niagara, Lockport is not.

Paladin mentions that everyone has a car nowadays, but that's not true for the urban poor who make up one of the larger family court client bases.

Consolidate family court in Niagara Falls. Let the people with cars drive into the Falls. So, as Mr. DeGeorge indictes, you can drive from Lockport to the Falls as easily as one can drive from Orchard Park to Buffalo.
Perhaps, the question is rather, just how easy is it to get from Buffalo to Orchard Park or Niagara Falls to Lockport on a bus?

lido said...

We're talking about family court George. All facets of life are affected, regardless of socio-economic status.

Lockport is the geographic center of the county, as well as the county seat. To assert that people from Hartland and Middleport and Newfane should drive to Niagara Falls so NF residents don't have to drive out of the city is disgustingly parochial.

If/when they courts are consolidated, they need to be in Lockport for the convenience of EVERYONE in the county.

Get over yourself with your parochial thinking.

Barney said...

Mr. Lodick,

Don't you believe that the citizens in Niagara Falls are capable of using public transportations?

Anyone w/o a car can caught the # 55 bus from 3 or 4 spots in Niagara Falls. It will take you right to Main street in Lockport which is 2 blocks from the Niagara Court House. $3.50 round trip for adults; kids and the disabled are $1.75

Paladin said...

Ah, yes, let's pander to Niagara Falls' denizens, they who pay nothing but reap all the financial benefit of our taxes.

I once attended a seminar on physics at our fine institution of higher learning on Route 31. The instructor was trying to explain how a black hole worked. Searching in vain for a comparison, she finally settled on the way that Niagara Falls tends to suck in everyone else in Niagara County's tax dollars, ensuring they're never seen again.

Let 'em pay bus fare.