The new town formed when Kiryas Joel split away from the Town of Monroe in January hasn't opened a municipal court as towns are required to have under state law, and has no candidates running for town justice for the second year in a row.
All vehicle and traffic tickets that state troopers write in the Town of Palm Tree have been assigned to the courts in neighboring towns and villages, with no compensation for their court salaries and other expenses except the local shares of any fines that violators pay. So far, that has meant 668 tickets for the Town of Monroe, 59 for the Town of Woodbury, 49 for the Town of Chester, and 33 for the Village of Harriman to handle, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
Leaders of the municipalities absorbing the cases aren't pleased with the arrangement. Woodbury Supervisor Frank Palermo argued on Wednesday the state needed to find another solution for the cases, and shouldn't treat Palm Tree differently than any other towns.
"You want to be a town?" Palermo said. "State law says you have to have two judges."
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said that Orange County Court judges have been distributing the Palm Tree cases to adjoining towns and villages, and called that "a standard process that happens in other recusal cases."
"The 9th Judicial District told the town what was required of them and continued following up over the summer," Chalfen explained by email. "They went over basic issues such as identifying an appropriate court location, getting a security assessment, hiring staff and court officers. Apparently they indicated that they had no appropriate location in their town for a court."
Palm Tree voters elected their first officials last November, before the new town took effect, but no one ran for the two justice spots. The same positions will be on the ballot this November, but again, no candidates filed petitions. That means Palm Tree won't have a court in 2020 either unless write-in candidates are elected.
The Palm Tree Town Board passed a law in March that allows non-residents to run for justice and permits Palm Tree to open a court outside its borders. Town officials said Wednesday that they hope to find qualified candidates and a suitable court location "in the near future."
The tickets will continue being funneled to other courts in the meantime. Town of Monroe Supervisor Tony Cardone bristled about the Palm Tree cases his town's court is handling.
"They're trying to throw it back into someone else's pockets so we have to bear the cost," he said. "They're circumventing what should have been their responsibility."