Monday, March 20, 2023

NYS Judicial Conduct Commission releases annual report

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has released its 2023 Annual Report, covering activities throughout the calendar year 2022.

Among its latest activities:

• The Commission also rendered 25 public decisions, the most in a single year since 2009.
• Thirteen judges were publicly disciplined: three judges were removed from office, seven were censured and three were admonished.
• Twelve judges resigned and publicly agreed never to return to judicial office.
• Six other judges resigned while complaints were pending, where it had not been determined permanent departure from office was warranted or appropriate.
• Twenty-seven judges were issued confidential cautionary letters.
• One hundred and eighty-seven matters were pending at year’s end.
The Commission is the disciplinary agency constitutionally designated to review complaints of judicial misconduct in New York State. The Commission's objective is to enforce the obligation of judges to observe high standards of conduct while safeguarding their right to decide cases independently.

The Report is available at here. An accompanying press release is available here.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Schuyler County: Gideon's Day Celebration is March 17

The Schuyler County Public Defender's Office is holding an Open House on Friday, March 17th from 2pm to 4pm. It will be celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision in Gideon v. Wainwright:
Gideon v. Wainwright is a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 18, 1963, that the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires U.S. states to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who are unable to afford their own.

Clarence E. Gideon was charged with felony breaking and entering in a Florida state court. He requested an attorney, but the judge denied him because it was not a capital case. With only an 8th grade education, he represented himself and was convicted after a trial. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled the 6th Amendment requires the state to provide an attorney because he could not afford one. Upon retrial Mr. Gideon was acquitted by the jury after only an hour of deliberation.

Please stop by to enjoy some treats, talk with our staff, and learn more about the important role public defenders and defense attorneys have in our criminal justice system and the service they provide to our community as a whole.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Second Amendment Legal Update: March 2023

A monthly update, prepared for the Schuyler County Chapter of S.C.O.P.E. NY, a statewide 501(c)4 organization dedicated to preserving the 2nd Amendment rights for the residents of New York State. For a complete copy of this month's report, click here.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Law Day 2023: “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility and Collaboration”

On Monday, March 6, at 4:00-5:00 PM ET the American Bar Assocation will be hosting the 2023 Law Day Launch program.

The program will include an introduction to the Law Day theme “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration” and new Law Day resources and activities.

Click here to register for the launch program, and visit here for more Law Day information and resources.

Law Day is held on May 1st every year to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. Learn more about the history of Law Day and past themes here.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Schuyler officials taking extra steps to help property owners avoid tax foreclosure.

Over the next few weeks, some tax delinquent Schuyler County residents will be getting a personal letter from County Treasurer Holley Sokolowski and County Attorney Steven Getman.

The message is polite and to the point: Please pay your back property taxes before February 28.

That’s the date after which, if taxes are not paid, a Schuyler County Court Judge may enter a judgment ordering the property seized and sold at public auction.

In an attempt to prevent that, Sokolowski and Getman are sending the letters, with handwritten notes on the envelopes, to approximately eighty property owners who still haven’t paid their back taxes.

“The letter reminds them of the deadline and provides options to avoid the foreclosure,” Sokolowski said. “Eligible property owners can pay the full amount due or arrange for an installment agreement.”

“It's the job of the county to collect taxes, but the main focus here is keeping people on their property and in their homes," Sokolowski said.

The letters also mention some of the services county tax dollars support, including law enforcement, public health, roads and bridges and social services.

The letters are based on research that found people are more likely to respond to personal letters and handwritten notes than to form documents, Getman said.

“A form letter may look like junk mail and get tossed,” Getman explained. “Handwriting shows the letter deserves more attention and sends a message that this is important.”

The letters are only the latest step in the county’s efforts to collect overdue taxes while keeping people in their homes.

According to Sokolowski, each November, the county mails out Foreclosure Notices and Petitions to properties with back tax liens from the prior year. Those notices go out by both regular and certified mail to property owners, mortgage holders and others with identified interests in the delinquent properties.

“The county also publishes a list of the delinquent taxes in two local newspapers and, in certain cases, posts warnings on the properties that they could be sold for back taxes,” she noted.

Only after each of those steps occurs, Getman explained, does the court enter a judgment foreclosing on the property.

After the court issues the foreclosure, the properties, if unredeemed, are sold at a public auction.

“The law requires the county to take every step to enforce the property tax laws and ensure that everyone pays their fair share,” Getman said.

"This is really just another way to do that, above and beyond what the law requires, while making sure we're keeping people in their homes and businesses."

As County Treasurer, Sokolowski is the chief fiscal officer of county government and enforcement officer for unpaid property tax liens.

As County Attorney, Getman is the chief legal advisor for county government and responsible for the prosecution and defense of civil actions brought by and against the county, including tax matters.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Second Amendment Legal Update: February 2023

A monthly update, prepared for the Schuyler County Chapter of S.C.O.P.E. NY, a statewide 501(c)4 organization dedicated to preserving the 2nd Amendment rights for the residents of New York State. For a complete copy of this month's report, click here.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Local leaders call on Gov. Hochul to crack down on ‘sticker stores’

Finger Lakes Daily News
State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning), and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C-Big Flats) on (January 12) joined regional law enforcement representatives and other local leaders to call on Governor Kathy Hochul and the Democrat leaders of the State Legislature to approve legislation and crack down on the proliferation of businesses, commonly known as “sticker stores,” illegally dispensing and selling marijuana throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide.

O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend currently sponsor legislation (S9365/A9815, Note: This legislation is being reintroduced and will receive new bill numbers for the 2023 legislative session) that, if enacted, would strengthen existing law, outlaw sticker stores, and establish criminal and civil penalties for violators. Any civil penalties collected by the state would be remitted to the county of the violating establishment.

They called on Hochul and the Democrat leaders of the Senate and Assembly to immediately enact the legislation.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Palmesano, and Friend said, “New York State needs to stop the proliferation of illegal marijuana ‘sticker stores’ throughout the region we represent and statewide. These illegal operations diminish the quality of life and risk the safety of the communities and neighborhoods where they operate. New York State is establishing a legal and appropriately regulated network of adult-use recreational marijuana dispensaries, with all the necessary safeguards. While we opposed the legalization of marijuana from the outset, if it’s going to go forward, it needs to take place under a legally established system with the appropriate oversight. We need to make it clear that these illegal sticker stores cannot operate and that there are criminal and civil consequences for any owners who continue to do so.”

Calling on Hochul to step up state efforts to shut down the illegal operations, including the enactment of the legislation they sponsor, the area state legislators were joined in Watkins Glen today by the following regional law enforcement representatives and local leaders: Schuyler County Sheriff Kevin Rumsey; Schuyler County Administrator Fonda Chronis; Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary; Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman; Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes; Chemung County Sheriff William Schrom; Chemung County Executive Assistant District Attorney Wayne Witherwax; Chemung County Legislator Bill McCarthy; Steuben County Sheriff James Allard; Steuben County Legislator Hilda Lando; Tioga County Sheriff Gary Howard; Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin; Penn Yan Police Chief Thomas Dunham; and Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Opioid distributor Teva to pay up to $116,000 in settlement with Schuyler County

A major drug distributor and its subsidiaries will pay Schuyler County up to $116,000 to settle claims it contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis in that county, under a resolution approved by the Schuyler County Legislature at a special meeting.

Meeting on Monday (January 23), the legislature voted unanimously to accept the settlement and authorized Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to execute the necessary legal documents.

According to the resolution, distributor Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and its subsidiaries (Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., the Actavis Generic Entities, and Anda, Inc.), agreed to the settlement with the county in exchange for being released from a pending lawsuit filed by the county, as well as later claims brought by the New York State Attorney General’s office.

The agreement calls for Teva to pay the county over seventeen annual installments, with payments expected to begin later this year, Getman said.

According to Getman, the settlement funds can be used for a variety of purposes.

“Potential uses include supporting police and first responders, treating opioid addiction, funding social services and similar anti-drug efforts,” Getman explained.

The agreement also commits Teva to critical injunctive relief, Getman noted, including:

• A ban on high-dose opioids and prescription savings programs;
• Prohibitions on marketing opioids and funding third parties that promote opioids;
• Restrictions on political lobbying; and
• Disclosure of Teva opioid product clinical data.

The motion authorizing Getman to accept the settlement was made by County Legislator Phil Barnes (R, Watkins Glen) and seconded by Legislator Michael Lausell (D, Hector).

The Teva agreement is the latest opioid settlement Schuyler County has been a part of in the past five years. In 2021, the county legislature authorized Getman to accept up to $121,000 from Johnson & Johnson and up to $546,000 from distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation to treat, reduce and prevent opioid use through a court settlement with the opioid maker. A similar agreement, for $41,000, was obtained from defendant Actavis, Inc. in early 2022. Like the Teva agreement, payments to the county are scheduled to be made over time.

The settlements stem from a 2018 lawsuit the county filed against approximately thirty defendants, including some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical industry. The lawsuit alleged the defendants had long known that opioids were addictive and subject to abuse, particularly when used long-term for chronic non-cancer pain, and should not be used except as a last-resort. However, the lawsuit stated, the defendants spent hundreds of millions of dollars disseminating scientific materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks of opioids’ long-term use.

Schuyler County was one of many local governments that filed lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York sued the pharmaceutical companies for fraudulent marketing practices.

After the counties sued, in March 2019, the New York State Attorney General’s office brought its own lawsuit on behalf of the state. In November, 2022, Attorney General Letitia James announced a tentative deal with Teva that will deliver up to $523 million to New York state to combat the opioid epidemic.

In October 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency due to the consequences of the opioid crisis facing the nation. That year, more than 70,000 individuals nationally and nearly 4,000 New Yorkers lost their lives to a drug overdose.

Schuyler County’s lawsuit against a number of other defendants remains pending, Getman said, with the possibility of more settlements and additional funding to the county still to come.

Said Getman: “One cannot put a price on lives lost and families torn apart, but with the more than $824,000 expected to be delivered to Schuyler County from these lawsuits, we can provide the County with financial assistance to continue this battle and hold these companies responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic.”

County Administrator Fonda Chronis agreed: "County officials have expended significant resources to help its residents battle opioid addiction and prevent further deaths. By voting to go forward with this settlement, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers for expenses related to the opioid crisis."

Schuyler County’s latest salvo in the fight against opioid companies comes shortly after the New York State Department of Health released its Quarterly Opioid Report for January 2023, showing a 14% increase in 2021 overdose deaths involving opioids compared to 2020. That report, comparing state totals for 2021 to 2020 data, noted a 14% increase in overdose deaths involving opioids, with 4,766 deaths statewide in 2021. The report notes that fentanyl has contributed to an increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years, is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, and is now involved in the majority of overdose deaths in New York State.

In November, Teva issued a statement describing the settlement as "enabling us to put these cases behind us and continue to focus on the patients we serve every day.”

Monday, January 23, 2023

New York enacts ‘right to repair’ bill for electronic devices

New York Daily News:
Finding ways to fix smartphones and other electronic devices will soon be a little easier for New Yorkers (under) a bill that will eventually require manufacturers to make diagnostic manuals, tools and other parts necessary for repairs available to the public and independent service shops.

The measure, considered the first so-called “right to repair” law in the country, will only apply to products made or sold after July 1, 2023.

The new law will cover digital electronic products, such as phones, tablets and IT equipment, and require companies provide access to the parts, tools and information needed to repair equipment.

Environmental advocates celebrated the legislative victory and said the new law will help reduce the threat from toxic chemicals found in many of the devices when they are prematurely discarded.

However, at least one “right to repair” advocate has declared that changes made to the bill by Gov. Kathy Hochul have rendered the law “functionally toothless”:
Right to Repair advocate Louis Rossmann has made a bitter YouTube video expressly saying that Governor Hochul's statement is "the exact opposite of what's going to happen with this bill because of how it was amended."

Central to Rossmann's argument is that the purpose of Right to Repair is to allow consumers to fix or replace individual components that have broken. As passed, he argues that the bill effectively allows companies free reign to declare a single component as unrepairable, and instead offer a costly assembly of several related parts.

"[The] manufacturer will tell you that when you have a bad $28 chip on your motherboard that what you need to do is replace the $745 Motherboard," he says.

For a complete copy of the new law, click here.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Ronald Reagan:
"Each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us -- if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King's dream comes true, and in his words, "All of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning. . . land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

(President Reagan, Coretta Scott King, Bob Dole and others at the signing ceremony for HR 3706 making the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday. 11/2/1983)