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State's top judge says juvenile probation system should be changed

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The judiciary should take over administration of probation departments in New York, especially juvenile programs, New York's top judge told a gathering of Genesee County's legal community today at the County Courthouse.

New York State Chief Judge, Hon. Jonathan Lippman, said studies show that the state's juvenile facilities -- where young offenders are housed -- are making the problems of juvenile crime worse, not better.

"The results of those investigations are that those facilities become high schools for crime," Lippman said. "In these detention facilities, kids who didn’t necessarily commit a very high level of crime, not the equivalent of a felony, but a kind of misdemeanor, and you send them there and they come back criminals."

In response to a question from Julie Smith, head of Genesee County's Probation Department, Lippman went further and said not only should juvenile probation be administered by the judiciary-- a change which is already being debated in the State Legislature -- but adult probation, too.

Lippman said the state judiciary wants to ensure that probation leads to better outcomes. He used the judiciary's experience with drug courts as an example of how judges are trained to work with defendants to guide them toward reform rather than a life of crime.

"A judge oversees their recovery from their addiction(s) and makes them useful citizens again instead of having them come into court over and over...until they commit a real serious crime and then we throw away the key," Lippman said.

Among other reforms Lippman discussed is giving the state's judges their first raise in a decade. He said if members of the judiciary don't get raises, it will be harder to attract top-notch legal minds to the bench. 

Lippman also said it's important to keep funding levels up for legal representation for indigent people involved in civil cases.

In lawsuits where a person's very well-being is at stake, such as potentially losing a house, a court-appointed attorney is vital for those who cannot afford one. Lippman says that that person's legal representation is just as important as it is for indigents needing counsel in a criminal-defense case.

In previous years, the state's fund for civil legal services was financed from interest on various investment accounts, but with the dip in the economy those funds have dried up.  So Lippman said the judiciary is setting aside $15 million from its budget to fill the gap.

Below, Stephen Wieczorek receives an award, with his grandson in attendance, from Judge Lippman.

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More pictures after the jump.

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City Court judges Robert Balbick and Michael DelPlato.

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Attorney Bob Fussell asks a question.

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Center, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman.

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Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha.

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Genesee County Probation Director Julie Smith asking a question.

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From left: Hon. Michael Coccoma, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge, Courts outside NYC; Hon. Robert J. Balbick, Batavia City Court Judge; Hon. Paula Feroleto, Administrative Judge, 8th Judicial District; Hon. Eric R. Adams, Genesee County Family Court Judge; Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge, New York State; Hon. Robert C. Noonan, Genesee County Court Judge; Hon. Sheila DiTullio, Erie County Court Judge; Hon. James P. Punch, Orleans County Judge.

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