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Town of Turin files suit against ex-judge over shortfall

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LOWVILLE — The town of Turin has filed suit against its former justice over a shortfall of more than $38,000 in the Town Court account.

The town is seeking payment of the shortfall, along with attorney fees, from former Judge James E. Chase, according to a state Supreme Court lawsuit filed Friday in the Lewis County clerk’s office.

After Mr. Chase’s resignation on Dec. 8, 2011, “the amounts remaining in the Justice’s account was insufficient to meet obligations by the amount of $38,502.50,” the suit states.

The town covered the shortfall using money from the general fund so that the new judge, Carry L. Kubinski, would have sufficient funds for bail and fines, it states.

The lawsuit claims Mr. Chase, who took office as town judge in August 1998, breached his statutory duty in handling public funds, his official duty as judge and his fiduciary duty to the town and public and “performed his financial functions in a negligent manner.”

A state comptroller’s audit report released in August 2010 identified an apparent $37,199 shortfall in the Turin Town Court account from the prior year. The audit, covering the period of Jan. 1, 2008, through Oct. 27, 2009, showed that most of the apparent shortfall stemmed from bail money that had not been accounted for.

Mr. Chase did not run for re-election in November 2011 and resigned from the post a few weeks before his term was to expire, with an agreement to never be a judge again, as part of a deal with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct to close its case against him.

The commission complaint, filed in August 2011, included allegations that Mr. Chase had failed to regularly deposit court funds, failed to notify the commissioner of motor vehicles to order the suspension of the driver’s licenses of numerous defendants and mishandled court funds, thereby failing to properly administer his court.

At the request of Lewis County District Attorney Leanne K. Moser, the Oneida County district attorney’s office in late 2010 agreed to investigate the case for criminal violations. However, no charges have ever been filed.

Town attorney Mark G. Gebo, who filed the civil suit on the town’s behalf, said he was unsure if the criminal case has been resolved, but he is not aware of any immediate charges pending.

The town’s lawsuit stated that Mr. Chase failed to do monthly reconciliations on bank statements, account separately for bail money, use duplicate pre-numbered receipts for payments, keep record of deposits, maintain a complete and accurate accounting system, make timely deposits, maintain a list of partial payments or implement internal controls to properly account for funds.

The town maintains that Mr. Chase, as a longtime judge, should have had a better handle on the court finances and reported any problems so they could have been addressed sooner.

“Part of the training for the justice included training on financial issues and the handling of accounts,” the suit states.

Since the audit, the town over the past couple of years has taken several steps, including implementing an annual audit of the court account, to fix problems with fiscal oversight and accounting practices.

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