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Three justices appointed temporarily for Watertown City Court arraignments

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WATERTOWN — The Fifth Judicial District’s top judge has temporarily appointed three town justices to act as City Court judges to help with overnight and weekend arraignments of suspects who can no longer be held in the county jail.

Since the construction of the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building in 1992, unarraigned suspects arrested by city police have been held there to await arraignment. That changed at 12:01 a.m. today after the state Commission of Correction directed in January that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department not house unarraigned suspects as it was against state law. City police detainees now will be held in two holding cells on the first floor of City Hall, where City Court is situated.

It initially appeared that the city’s two judges, Eugene R. Renzi and Catherine J. Palermo, would be called upon exclusively to conduct arraignments during hours the court is closed, but Judge James C. Tormey, Fifth Judicial District’s administrative judge, now has tapped three justices to be part of a rotation to cover the after-business hours.

“We think we can get by with the three town judges and the two city judges,” Judge Tormey said Tuesday.

Appointed on a per-diem basis as of today are LeRay Town Justices John W. Hallett and Larry G. Covell and town of Watertown Justice David A. Renzi, who is Judge Renzi’s brother. Judge Tormey said other justices also expressed interest in the position, but the three selected had the requirements of being an attorney and presiding in a municipality contiguous to the city. The justices will be paid $125 per day, plus mileage, for the arraignment work. The city will reimburse the state Office of Court Administration for the costs.

Judge Tormey said Judge Renzi and Judge Palermo will not receive additional compensation for overnight or weekend work, saying both offered to do it.

“They’re volunteering not just because they’re good judges; they’re also good citizens,” Judge Tormey said.

The temporary appointments are until July 15, but Judge Tormey said that can be extended. However, he said, he believes the county will obtain approval from the state Legislature to again allow prearraignment inmates to remain at the PSB, as 14 counties statewide have received permission from the state, under home-rule legislation, to house unarraigned suspects in their jails.

“I think they’re going to ask for the enabling legislation, but the question is how long will it take?” Judge Tormey said. “I hope we don’t need to” extend the appointments.

Each judge will be on call for three consecutive days, with city police providing security for the arraignments. If no arraignments take place on any given day during the justices’ three-day rotation, they will not be paid for that day. As no clerk or court reporter will be available, the three justices underwent training on the electronic instruments needed to record proceedings.

“They’re all ready to go,” Judge Tormey said.

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