How would you improve the administration of the justice system in your community?
response by michael anthony rossi
First, let me say that Grand Island is extremely lucky to have two very knowledgeable Town Justices, Justice Sybil Kennedy and Justice Randall White. I am very disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to serve with Justice White but extremely grateful to have the opportunity to serve with Justice Kennedy.
In any Courtroom throughout this great country, there are three universal requirements for the fair administration of justice. They are:
1. Having a Judge who knows the law;
2. Having a Judge who listens to all sides; and
3. Having a Judge who renders a fair and impartial decision.
Throughout this campaign, I have been talking about various issues that separate me from the other candidates seeking the office of Grand Island Town Justice. I have presented my background and experience in detailed fashion and cited my 24 years of Courtroom experience. My knowledge of the law and trial experience is unmatched. In addition to my experience and knowledge of the law, I bring 18 years of experience representing Grand Island residents in legal matters which have taught me first hand the family values and concerns of our community. I learned these values and concerns by doing what any good lawyer does, listen to his or her client.
In order to render a fair and impartial decision, a Judge must be immune from outside influence. Over the past few months, I have made it known that I have no outside influences and am the only candidate in this race with no political backing or party endorsements. I am not active in any local political party, I am not a committeeman in any political party, I am not accepting political contributions and no one in my family has a political job. I owe no political favors to anyone! Judges should be selected on experience and qualifications, not political party activities. I have been nominated by the voters of Grand Island, not political parties and this makes me totally and completely independent and impartial.
If we limit the scope of the administration of justice simply to the Courtroom we short change ourselves. As a sitting judge, I intend to do more than simply sit on the bench every two weeks and try to close out cases. For the past 24 years I have gone into classrooms and talked with students about the law. I have appeared before community groups and service organizations to inform the public of legal issues and open a dialogue to improve community awareness of our judicial system. I will be a very visible Town Justice working throughout our community to improve the administration of justice any way I can. The position of Town Justice may be part-time but the position requires and deserves someone who will devote a full-time commitment to all Grand Island residents.
One example is my plan to take the Courtroom into the schools. Over the past several months, I have been talking about my program to go into the schools each week and talk to our young people about our court system. We need to build respect for our laws and Courts and this will be accomplished by an open dialogue between students and a sitting judge. Our youth will learn first hand that there will be consequences for their actions and the end result will be a safer community for all.
As a community leader, I firmly believe that we should never be satisfied. There is always something to be accomplished, always a better way of doing things, always room for improvement. In examining our Town Justice Court, I will make suggestions and seek improvements to insure that our court runs smoothly, efficiently and cost effectively. I have announced a plan to make our Justice Court the first Justice Court in New York State with a separate Domestic Violence part. We need to handle these cases in a very different way to protect the victims of domestic violence and make sure that the likelihood of a repeat offense is limited and hopefully eliminated. The residents of Grand Island deserve nothing less. I intend to work hand in hand with our sitting Judge, Justice Kennedy, to make this and other improvements to our court a reality.
The election of a Town Justice should not be a popularity contest. For that reason, over the past several months I have separated myself from the other candidates in this race by discussing issues and announcing programs to improve our Justice Court and the administration of justice throughout our community. I have defined this campaign as one of experience, values and commitment. Grand Islanders deserve and should demand nothing less. I’d like to thank all of the volunteers who have helped me deliver this message and all of the residents I have met along the campaign trail who have encouraged me to continue on with this message of change. Most of all, I’d like to thank my wife, Mena, and my children, Anthony, Nicholas, Kara, and Michele, for their support, commitment, and sacrifice in allowing me to take on this challenge. I’d also like to thank the League of Women Voters and Isledegrande.com for giving me another opportunity and forum to express my views and plans for our Justice Court.
WOULD YOU UTILIZE ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION?
RESPONSE BY MICHAEL ANTHONY ROSSI
The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer needs further explanation. Justice will always require that incarceration be an option. While compassion does enter into the decision, there are times when an offender simply does not get the message. Repeat offenders must be dealt with and often the only option is jail.
Let’s look at the following examples. The first example would be the single mother who is caught stealing food to feed her young children. While this action must not and will not be condoned, an alternative to incarceration must be explored. The second example involves a young drug addict who steals personal property to feed his drug habit. This situation may require jail time but is still one where alternatives must be explored. The third example involves an individual with a long criminal history who continues to disregard the law and finds himself before the court for breaking into the home of an elderly couple and stealing some family heirlooms. Jail time may be the only option in this situation and must be available to the Court.
There are several alternatives to incarceration I would consider however, time and space allow for only a brief discussion.
The cost of incarceration is a drain on society’s resources. There are situations involving non-violent offenders when a “house confinement” is appropriate. In this situation, the offender covers all costs associated with this punishment including the cost of monitoring the individual’s confinement and movement. In limited circumstances, an offender may be allowed to leave home for a period of time to go to work. Often times, a family suffers when the head of the household is sent to jail and the family loses its source of income. This option would limit the cost to the taxpayer, help the family left behind, and still impose a meaningful punishment under the right circumstances.
Community service is another form of punishment that must be available. Rather than sitting in jail, under the appropriate circumstances, an offender should be ordered to perform community service. This work without compensation offers a benefit to nonprofit organizations and governmental organizations.
As part of my plan to create a Domestic Violence part in Grand Island Justice Court, I would require any offender to attend and complete appropriate anger management and counseling programs at the offender’s expense. The offender will be monitored closely to insure that any orders of the court including orders of protection are not violated. Failure to obey any order of the Court will demonstrate a need for stiffer penalties including incarceration.
Like domestic violence offenses, drug crimes cry out for counseling and a drug abuse assessment. In some cases, these programs and counseling sessions are successful. In many cases they are not. As a sitting judge, one has to make an assessment as to the likelihood of success. A second offense is a clear indication that the offender wasted his or her opportunity and incarceration may be the only solution.
Probation is a very common alternative to incarceration, sometimes too common. Along with the requirement to report to a probation officer on a regular basis, the offender must also be ordered to seek or continue with employment or attend school. These conditions, along with avoiding any further legal problems, often require regular drug and/or alcohol testing at the offender’s expense.
These are only a few alternatives to incarceration that must be available for the effective administration of justice. As a sitting judge, it would be my obligation to find new forms of punishment and programs to insure that our community remains safe and we limit the number of repeat offenders who appear in our court. I must stress that jail time must always remain an option for punishment and only under appropriate circumstances should alternatives be considered.
DO YOU FEEL THERE ARE SUFFICIENT ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
RESPONSE BY MICHAEL ANTHONY ROSSI
While alternative programs do exist in our community, I am never satisfied that what we have is sufficient. Change is good. Change is needed. Change is required. We need to change the way we think and change the way we do things. We need to be proactive and not merely react to the situation.
When jail time is an appropriate punishment, there needs to be sufficient jail space to house the offender. Jail space is created by utilizing alternative programs under the appropriate circumstances. Unfortunately, there are situations when a shortage of available alternative programs may require sending someone to jail, thereby taking up needed space to house a violent offender. Here lies the dilemma.
Efforts to expand, fund and/or restore alternative programs are always subject to budgetary review. These alternative programs tend to lose funding more quickly than funding for our prisons. It is up to us as community to focus on this dilemma to insure that our prisons do not get overcrowded and alternative programs are available to our court. We must work together, hand in hand, to make it known to those responsible for funding these programs that alternatives to incarceration serve the best interests of society in general and the Grand Island Community in particular.
Once again, I’d like to thank the League of Women Voters and Isledegrande.com for giving me another opportunity and forum to express my views and plans for our Justice Court. Please exercise your right to vote on September 13th and I ask that you give me the opportunity to serve as Grand Island’s next Town Justice. Whether you are a Republican, Democratic, Independence, Conservative, or Working Families voter, I pledge to you that I will do my best to be a Town Justice all Grand Islanders will be proud to support regardless of political affiliation.