County declines to shift family court cases

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Responding to complaints from the Retreat, the East Hampton-based program that helps abused women, and from police and attorneys on the East End, the county’s court system has retreated from a plan to shift Family Court cases from Riverhead to Central Islip, the main site of the Suffolk Family Court. The plan would have affected all cases involving neglect and abuse and “persons in need of supervision” (PINS).

The shift would have created “a tremendous hardship for Retreat clients,” according to Lauren Walsh, the organization’s program and planning director.

“Many of the Retreat’s clients rely on public transportation to get to their court dates,” noted Ms. Walsh. There is a lack of public transportation on the East End, she pointed out. The area has scant train service and limited bus service, she said.

The Retreat compiled figures showing 383 neglect and abuse and PINS cases heard in 2007—“an average of 32 cases a month”—in Family Court in Riverhead in 2007.

Families whom The Retreat assists “are already struggling with the current, unfortunate circumstances of their lives, without having to travel an additional 35 miles to get to court, or having to work with a network of services outside of their local area,” said Ms. Walsh.

“The Riverhead Family Court currently satisfies many of the legal needs of families. It would be unfortunate to lose such quality services that so many on the East End depend on,” she continued.

She asked that people “help us overturn the transfer of neglect/abuse and PINS cases currently heard in the Riverhead Family Court to Central Islip.”

On Friday, Suffolk County’s District Administrative Judge H. Patrick Leis III, issued a statement saying that “due to fiscal concerns and in order to reallocate court resources in the current economic climate, the Suffolk Family Court had announced, but not implemented, a change in the manner of assigning cases between its Riverhead and Central Islip facilities, specifically child abuse and neglect proceedings and juvenile delinquency and persons in need of supervision proceedings.”

“The concerns expressed by the local police departments and the community have been considered, and in view thereof, the Family Court will continue to hear neglect, abuse, JD and PINS proceedings in Riverhead, in cases where the parties reside in the towns on the East End of Suffolk,” the statement went on.

“Moreover, in response to the needs of the citizens of the East End of Suffolk, the Center for Court Innovation along with the New York State courts have recently applied for and received a grant to open an Integrated Domestic Violence Court on the East End … It is anticipated that the new part will open sometime in the new year,” said the judge’s statement.

The Retreat provides housing, legal advocacy, counseling and a 24-hour hotline as well as offering education, job training and prevention programs.

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