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Transition continues in Monroe County courts

Joseph D. Valentino

Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Joseph D. Valentino is now the supervising judge of the criminal courts.

He replaces the Hon. Patricia D. Marks, who retired at the end of January.

Judge Valentino was appointed recently by Judge Thomas M. Van Strydonck, administrative judge for the eight-county Seventh Judicial District, in consultation with Judge Henry J. Scudder, presiding justice, Appellate Division, Fourth Department; and Judge Michael V. Coccomo, deputy chief administrative judge for the courts outside of New York City.

“I’ve been a judge for 23 years,” Judge Valentino said Tuesday. “This is a position that I have always revered. I feel very honored by the appointment of the chief administrator. I realize that it is a challenging job, but I’m looking forward to working with all the judges and the staff to make the criminal courts in the Seventh Judicial District the best they can be.”

Judge Valentino has been a judge since 1983, first elected as Rochester City Court judge. He was appointed an acting county judge in 2000 by then-Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman who is now the state’s chief judge.

Judge Valentino has been a Supreme Court justice since 2002. He also served as Rochester Drug Treatment Court judge from 1997 to 2001 and worked for the district attorney’s office from 1974 to 1982.

The county court vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Marks is subject to appointment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate confirmation. The seat could also be filled by election in November if no appointment is made.

The specialty courts that Judge Marks supervised are now being overseen by Judge John R. Schwartz, who founded the Drug Treatment Court in 1995. Judge Van Strydonck said that allows Judge Teresa D. Johnson, who has been leading the drug treatment and mental health courts, to return to full-time duties as supervising judge of the city courts.

The county court has seen a lot of changes in the last year, starting with the departure of Judge Alexander R. Renzi at the beginning of 2010. He was elected in November 2009 to the state Supreme Court.

Judge John J. Connell died last May and Judge Richard A. Keenan retired at the end of the year. The court had already had one of its six slots vacant for more than a year by then.

That left Judge Marks; Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr., who has been on the court since 1999; and Judge John L. DeMarco, who joined the court at the beginning of last year.

Joining the court at the beginning of this year were Judge Vicki Argento, Judge Vincent M. Dinolfo and Judge James J. Piampiano, all of whom were serving as town justices when they were elected in November.

Judge Van Strydonck said the three new judges are all up and running, scheduling trials and carrying full dockets.

“Judge DeMarco has been there for a little over a year,” he said. “He’s carrying a full caseload and is up to speed. We certainly are not replacing the experience of John Connell, Rick Keenan, Pat Marks and Alex Renzi, but I have confidence that the three judges are ready to assume their duties and are doing so.” 

There has also been a lot of shifting in support staff since the Seventh Judicial District lost 58 of its 553 employees — mostly in Monroe County — late last year through early retirement incentives offered by the state.

Judge Van Strydonck said Ronald W. Pawelczak, chief clerk of the family court, will fill the district executive for administration position vacated by Harry Salis. He said Pawelczak’s family court position will be filled later this month.

Judge Van Strydonck also said Eugene Crimi, a law clerk to city court judges, is replacing Sandra Petrella who retired as chief clerk of Rochester City Court.

“There is a restriction on hiring at this point until the budget issues are ironed out,” Judge Van Strydonck said. “We’ll be filling critical positions, but I’ve been asked to delay filling any positions that aren’t critical.”

The Judiciary has been asked by Cuomo, who unveiled the state budget Feb. 1, to cut its spending request by 10 percent. It had already implemented a hiring freeze in an attempt to save money.

Judge Van Strydonck said there are currently 17 open slots in his district, mostly because of retirements. He said offers were about to be made to fill the positions, but have been delayed.

“We have some others that we’ve been maintaining vacant under a general attempt to respond to the budget crisis,” he said. “We’re calling upon the employees who remain and asking them to pick up the slack. They’re responding very positively. We’re going to make every effort to make sure the disposition of cases is in a timely fashion, the same as before.”

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, also has a vacant judgeship as the result of the retirement of Justice Elizabeth W. Pine at the end of last year.

Justice Scudder said he does not expect her vacant position to be posted for filling by the state anytime soon.

“That’s not being addressed at all at this point in time,” he said. “The budget is what’s in the forefront. We’ve heard nothing about when the posting will be for that position.”

Appointment to the position will be made by the governor and, unlike the county judgeship, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate, according to a governor spokesperson.