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Catherine Cahill: Experience on the bench

Publication: The East Hampton Press
By Beth Young   Oct 28, 2009 1:23 PM

East Hampton Town Justice Catherine Cahill has served for 16 years, and during that time, she said she has helped to shepherd the court through many changes.

Ms. Cahill, 57, is a former East End prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office who was first elected to her current position when Tony Bullock was town supervisor. She studied anthropology and worked with her mother as a social worker in New York City before getting her law degree from Pace University.

“I love my job. I feel that I am very productive in my job. I have a good grip on the criminal justice system,” she said. “In 16 years, the Justice Court system has grown exponentially. It bears absolutely no resemblance to when I came on. The number of felonies and violent crimes have just grown to take over the Justice Court.”

Ms. Cahill said that while the town’s new court building, which it began using last year, has helped her run a more secure courtroom, she still had to fight the town for everything, from bullet-proof glass for her clerks to a metal detector at the entrance to the courtroom, which she acquired through a grant but remains in storage because the town won’t pay for a court officer to operate it. She said that the entrance to the main court room is wired for the metal detector.

“All I have to do is plug it in,” she said.

“There were serious security issues,” she said of the town’s former courtroom, where Town Hall meetings still take place. “People could be in there for an uninspected motor vehicle and be sitting knee to knee with someone in shackles.”

The new courtroom has a holding cell and a conference room, allowing far more options to protect people who use the Justice Court for routine matters, she said.

Ms. Cahill also said that she has worked to make the court both efficient and friendly, and that her philosophy is to allow people who appear for traffic tickets to vent and receive the benefit of a reduction in their fines.

“I don’t know of another Justice Court where you call and you get a person on the phone right away who looks up your records,” she said. “It’s very, very efficient. When we get an employee, they don’t leave.”

Ms. Cahill said that her opponent’s complaints about the backlog of zoning cases on Mondays arises from the fact that she needs to hear zoning 
cases when code enforcement and dog control officers are available in 
order to resolve the cases, and that she can ask those officials to take only 
one day out of their busy schedules 
to appear in court.

“It’s really a synthesis of precision,” she said of the zoning calendar.

Ms. Cahill said that when she first started working at the court, she very rarely needed to have Spanish interpreters.

“Spanish day was once a month and it was never even crowded,” she said. “Now every day is Spanish day. I literally can’t run the court without an interpreter.”

She pointed out that the town is reimbursed by Suffolk County for the cost of interpreters. She added that few East Hampton Town Police officers speak Spanish, leading to more confusion when Spanish speakers first come in contact with the town’s criminal justice system.

Working with immigrants who often don’t have driver’s licenses has made it difficult for her to sentence drunk drivers, in particular, she said.

“If they don’t have a license, you can’t sentence them to a Stop DWI program,” she said, adding that she now sentences drunk drivers without licenses to a program called TASC, which forbids driving for one year and involves more intense supervision than probation. People who violate the TASC program end up spending six months in the Suffolk County jail. Ms. Cahill said that, as recently as nine months ago, if illegal immigrants appeared before her and were sent to the Suffolk County Jail they would likely be deported, but she said that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement has changed its enforcement dramatically in recent months.

“I had someone last week with a letter who was ordered to leave the country at his own expense. They’re not even paying to deport people now,” she said. “There isn’t a system that hasn’t broken down.”

Ms. Cahill said that Town Justice Court is still running smoothly. She said that she was disappointed that the Town Republicans have chosen to run Andy Hammer against her instead of cross-endorsing, which is a common practice in Southampton’s Town Justice races.

“It’s not a good year to be a Democrat,” she said. “Andy’s a very nice fellow and he has a following, but you’re not going to find anyone who has a viable complaint about how this court is running.”

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I respect and admire Justice Cahill as well. However, I think that her description of the Justice Court being a "synthesis of precision" and that there isn't anyone who has a viable complaint about the operation of the Justice Court defies logic and reality. I hear these complaints and suggestions on a daily basis from litigants, community members and practicing attorneys. My candidacy is about bringing these issues to our community conscience and implementing change in the way we run our system. ...more
By Andy Hammer (5), Springs on Oct 13, 09 1:44 PM
2 members liked this comment
Mr. Hammer, I have to agree with the other poster - it is quite inappropriate for you to use this article's comment board as a campaign tool. Doing so shows extremely poor judgement.
By yearrounder (208), Southampton on Oct 28, 09 3:09 PM
I will add my voice to those that say you used poor judgment, Mr. Hammer
By fcmcmann (417), Hampton Bays on Oct 28, 09 4:00 PM
Thank you for you precise comments. I think it bears explaining that a "calendar" when used in relation to a court is an inclusive term that deals with court operations, not just scheduling. So my reading would be shared by many practicing attorneys (perhaps limited to that particular day I would grant you) but perhaps somewhat technical in application. I will take this into consideration for any future comments. Thank you.
By Andy Hammer (5), Springs on Oct 20, 09 4:18 PM
Mr. Hammer, I believe it is quite inappropriate for you to use these boards as a political tool. We come here to read ABOUT candidates from an unbiased source, not from the candidates themselves. Perhaps you should use your own website to make comments.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Oct 28, 09 3:01 PM
I see nothing inappropriate about Mr. Hammer sharing his views on this blog - I think it is an important way for people to understand what his views are and why. These boards are used as "political tools" every day! Who are you guys trying to kid?! Andy Hammer's scholarly knowledge of the law and even temperment would serve us well as a Justice. And I agree with him that there should be more respect for people's time in that Court - ever been there for a measley traffic ticket? Torture.
By Board Watcher (494), East Hampton on Oct 28, 09 4:27 PM
This article is meant to present Catherine Cahill as a candidate. Mr. Hammer also has an article representing him as a candidate. Why in the name of God would he chose to use this forum to argue policy? It is inappropriate.
By fcmcmann (417), Hampton Bays on Oct 28, 09 5:58 PM
And if Ms. Cahill uses Mr. Hammer's article to argue policy I will call her out on it as well.
By fcmcmann (417), Hampton Bays on Oct 28, 09 5:59 PM
Please look at other stories. There are other candidates also posting by name and picture on this thread. Besides, why not hold candidates to what they say? And who better to do it than their opponents. You get a chance tp critic the opponents statement, as you have. It actually takes some guts to put your face and thoughts on this site and open yourself to anonymous, biased responses.
By eastend09 (43), east hampton on Nov 1, 09 11:16 AM
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