Forty years ago, a minor traffic violation would have cost someone between $10 and $50. Today, the surcharge alone will range from $55 to $400, depending on the offense.
Despite popular belief, local judges do not decide what these fees will be.
“We have no control over it; the state adds surcharges on everything,” Granville Village and Town Judge Roger Forando said.
Along with Forando, Town Judge Ronald Daigle and Acting Village Justice Paul Manchester have kept busy with more than 1,200 combined charges in the past year.
However, these officials are not trying to rein in money for Granville; in fact, they agreed, they simply want to address each individual case as fairly and reasonably as possible.
“The vast majority, when they come in here, we treat them very respectfully,” said Manchester, who has been annually reappointed to his position for 20 years. He is also a retired history teacher who worked at Granville High School for 35 years.
Forando, who now also works in college admissions, was the director of guidance at the high school for 34 years and also taught driver education. At the beginning of his law career 33 years ago, he was the youngest judge in Washington County; he is now the second-most senior judge. He and Manchester agree it’s difficult to deal with former students in court.
“The hardest part of the job is to pass judgment on people we have known for years,” Forando said. And in a small town, that issue is fairly common. The judges, though, stress that they want to make sure everyone, including themselves, is treated equally.
“We don’t want people in Granville to think we’re something special – we’re not,” Manchester said. He pointed out that none of the Granville judges choose to use new State Magistrate Association license plates. He thinks they are unethical and would present an appearance of impropriety.
Daigle, who was previously Granville’s chief of police, is near the end of his first year as town justice. He, like the other two judges, attained a judicial certification through Albany Law School after his election. Daigle is a practicing attorney and a member of the Washington County Bar Association.
The three must also complete 12 or more hours of judicial training each year and pass an annual test, Forando said. He explained how much local justice courts have changed since the 1970s, when judges held court in their garages, barns and homes.
“Every court is now required to record all court proceedings; whatever they said in their defense and whatever the judge instructed is recorded on a state laptop recorder,” he said. The cases these local courts handle include all locally issued traffic tickets, violations, felony arraignments, small claims and misdemeanors or any criminal charges that result in a maximum of one year in jail.
The judges are also regularly called to go to police stations in the middle of the night for cases that need immediate arraignment. It’s not all bad, though — the judges do have some perks.
“One of the pleasurable parts of the job is performing marriages for friends and family or for kids you had in school,” Forando said.
In 2012, the majority of charges seen by the judges in both the town and the village were traffic related, with criminal coming in second and civil falling way behind. These ranged from bribing a witness to rape. While the town court collected $68,758 through the court and the village collected $75,340, Forando said only about $30,000 will be returned to the municipality.
Court sessions, which are held every Monday at the town court and every Tuesday at the village court, are open to the public. Anyone with any questions about the court system may contact any of the judges.