Jul 29, 2014

Harrison's Court Among State's Busiest

Harrison's courts brought in more than $2.1 million in 2011, making in the 10th busiest town court in the state, according to the state comptroller's office.

Harrison's Court Among State's Busiest

The winding line in front of Harrison Town Hall every Tuesday resembles those found a few miles down the road at Playland, the only problem is there isn't a fun ride waiting at the other end.

People waiting in line answering summonses, traffic tickets and other violations or charges are faced with long lines every week as they wait to go to court. The line routinely stretches outside and, despite efforts to stagger court times, often leaves people waiting for a good amount of time before they are even let inside.

The reason for the wait? Despite only operating once or twice a week, Harrison has one of the busiest town courts in New York State.

When ranked by total revenue generated, Harrison's town court was the third busiest in Westchester County and the 10th busiest state wide in 2011, according to numbers from the state comptroller's office. The court generated more than $2.1 million in revenue last year.

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The numbers up even more in the first half of 2012, officials say.

"This year the figures are through the roof," said Harrison Court Clerk Jackie Ricciardi. "It's just unbelievable."

Part of the reason for the busy court schedule is the number of police agencies that work within the town's borders. Westchester County Police, New York State Police, and campus police at SUNY Purchase join the Harrison Police Department in issuing summonses to court at town hall every day.

Ricciardi said the emergence of electronic traffic tickets allow police to issue more summonses on highways during each shift, adding even more to the influx of tickets.

But as the number of tickets has increased, the amount of time Harrison court is open has remained the same. Harrison court is in session every Tuesday and on Thursdays twice every month. In comparison, the top two revenue-generating town courts in Westchester, Greenburgh and Port Chester, are open every day.

The result is a lot of work for the court staff inside, and a lot of waiting for people with tickets.

As a response, Harrison's court has attempted to stagger appearance times on Tuesdays to prevent a long line when court opens at 9:30 a.m. Last winter people began having to wait outside for their appearances because fire code regulations wouldn't allow everyone to stay inside at the same time.

"It is what it is and you have to make the best with the arrangements that you have," said Ricciardi. "(Town officials) are aware that it's not the best situation here, but the town just doesn't have the funds to put us in a building that can accommodate us."

Other possible solutions would also be difficult. Adding another day of court would require scheduling the district attorney's office to send representatives another day, another day of judges coming into court and would take additional officers off the street.

The workload has been stressful for the small staff in Ricciardi’s office, which routinely stays after hours to prepare for each session. The staff is required to finish most of its daily work before people appear in court, so putting off an assignment until the following workday is usually not an option.

"That's how we are accommodating that, us staying until all hours to get that work done," Ricciardi said.

Despite the extra hours in town hall, Ricciardi said part of the reason for the busy court is a good thing. She credits the Harrison Police, and other police agencies, for doing the work that brings people into court every day. She added that criminal arrests are increasing as quickly as traffic violations—the result of good police work.

But the end result is a lot of people, paperwork and lines in town hall every week, and there appears to be no end in sight.

"We are slammed all the time," Ricciardi said. "Thank goodness I have a very good staff that stays here all hours."

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