Judge Sullivan Serves as Multi-Hatter in Chenango County
BY ANITA WOMACK-WEIDNER
Every Monday morning, Judge W. Howard Sullivan leaves his loft apartment in Norwich, N.Y., and walks with an armful of freshly-baked bread in bags with his private label into the Chenango County courthouse.
His staff, and even some defendants, know that Judge Sullivan will arrive with loaves of white bread with potato flakes he made over the weekend.
Although he is known as a compassionate man, no
one questions his ability to uphold the law.
"It is important to remove from society those
who commit serious crimes and to find effective
age-appropriate ways of redirecting the others who
will be back in our community," said Judge Sullivan.
"[However] I always keep in mind that I am
a public servant. I am a listener and try to make
people feel that they have been treated fairly."
But Judge Sullivan hears more than just criminal
cases - he is a "multi-hat"judge, presiding not
only over County Court but also Surrogate's and
Excluding New York City, every county in the
state has at least one elected County Court judge.
Where there is no statutory provision for the election
of a Surrogate or Family Court judge for a particular
county, the law provides that the County
Court judge will serve in those courts as well. Such
judges are often referred to as the county judge.
There are 57 multi-hat judges across the state: 38
who preside over all three courts; 13 who are
County Court judges and Surrogates; and six who
are both County and Family Court judges.
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts
Outside New York City Jan H. Plumadore, who
previously served as a multi-hat judge in Franklin
County, says the concept of a multi-hat judge
has been around since
In the course of a
week, and often the same
day, Judge Sullivan goes
back and forth between
the County Courthouse,
a historic two-story structure
in the middle of
town, and the Chenango
County Office Building
across the street, which
houses Family Court and
Surrogate's Court. "I handle murder cases, life support
cases, abuse cases, domestic violence cases,
estates involving multi-millions of dollars, and a
multitude of other cases," said Judge Sullivan.
As part of his County Court duties, Judge Sullivan
presides over the drug treatment court started
in Chenango County two years ago. He also serves
as an Acting Supreme Court justice in the absence
or at the request of the County's only Supreme
Court justice, Kevin Down. Prior to his election to
County Court in 1999, Judge Sullivan was a City
Court judge for 22 years.
Such a multi-court structure does not mean that
each court's docket is necessarily light. In the
August-September term of last year, the Chenango
Family Court caseload was higher than that of several
surrounding counties; all except one have two
county judges that share the multi-court caseload.
On the day this writer visited, Judge Sullivan
entered Surrogate's Court in the Chenango County
Office building just after 9 a.m. to hear an
update on a case involving an
estate. At 9:30 a.m., across the
street at the County Courthouse,
he presided over an
arraignment, then conferenced
several criminal cases. At 10:15
he heard a civil motion involving
a name change. At 10:30
a.m. he attended a drug court
meeting regarding the status of
everyone in the program. And,
at 11:30 a.m. he presided over
the drug treatment court and
held a graduation ceremony for those who were
being successfully discharged.
After lunch, it was time for Family Court. First
there was an initial appearance regarding a child
custody case, followed by several other custody
matters involving modification or enforcement of
an order and an initial appearance regarding an
order of protection.
In theory, Mondays and Fridays are primarily set
aside for County and Surrogate's Courts, while
Tuesdays through Thursdays are Family Court days
except during County Court trial terms. "Of course,
responsibilities inherent to two courts do not cease
because the day 'belongs' to another court, and so
the three hats never really come off and the job is
more often a difficult juggling act," said Court
Attorney Thomas Kelly.
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