Harrietstown will have one judge, new clerk

SARANAC LAKE – The town of Harrietstown has opted to go with one town justice, at least for now.

At its meeting Thursday night, the town board voted unanimously to give town Justice Ken McLaughlin what would have been the salary of Justice Howard Riley from the effective date of his resignation, Aug. 1, until a new judge is seated. The part-time judges are paid $8,456 a year each.

The board could have appointed an interim justice to fill Riley’s seat for the rest of the year, if the person was qualified to be a judge.

“I don’t think we can find anybody, unless somebody’s got somebody in mind, who’s been through all the training and stuff that we can appoint,” said Councilman Barry DeFuria. “So there’s no sense in doing that.”

If someone who is qualified comes forward, the board could still appoint him or her to the position, said Supervisor Bob Bevilacqua.

Councilwoman Nichole Meyette asked McLaughlin, who was in the audience during the meeting, if the town court caseload would be too much for him to handle alone.

McLaughlin, who’s also a village of Saranac Lake justice, said he’s used to handling large caseloads from village court. He said he had 94 cases at his last village court night, and 74 at the session before that.

“The town, right now, the way it’s set up, it just means I’ll have to adjust a little bit with the (Franklin County) District Attorney’s Office,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. If you appoint somebody, as long as they’re ready to roll, it won’t be a problem at all. I did it for two months when Justice Riley wasn’t available; I ran the whole thing.”

Riley told the board last month that he plans to step down. He had been on the bench since 2008 and is in the middle of a four-year term.

In an interview with the Enterprise this week, Riley said he’s leaving office early because he’s concerned about the workload the town’s justices will inherit when the much busier village court dissolves in April of next year. When that happens, Harrietstown town court will take over the caseload of the Harrietstown section of the village.

The remainder of Riley’s term will be on the ballot in November. Bevilacqua said the board can appoint whoever wins the seat immediately after the election, rather than wait until Jan. 1, so he or she can begin the required judicial training and help relieve McLaughlin’s workload as soon as possible.

In other business Thursday, the board voted unanimously to hire Scott Darrah as town court clerk, replacing Patricia Meagher, who is retiring effective Aug. 2. Darrah will take on the town court clerk job in addition to his current job as village court clerk. He will be a part-time town employee, with no benefits, until village court ends in April.