Opinion says St. Lawrence County judge shouldn't be prosecuting pistol permit revocations
By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- An opinion from the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics stating that judges should not be involved in the prosecution of pistol permit revocations has St. Lawrence County Chairman Kevin Acres calling for change.
The opinion dated Dec. 7 states that the decision to either prosecute or refrain from prosecuting pistol permit holders should be made by prosecuting agencies, not judges. But according to Acres that has not been the case in St. Lawrence County.In June 2015 legislators passed a law that they’d hoped would aid in allowing eligible citizens to acquire unrestricted carry-and-conceal pistol licenses. The legislators sought to define the term “proper cause” as it applies to unrestricted handgun permit rules.
The law was intended to limit Judge Jerome Richard’s discretion regarding restrictions that are placed on the majority of pistol permits.
Richards declined to comment on the opinion.
County legislators have stated in the past they believe Richards has placed unnecessary restrictions on the vast majority of pistol permits he issues. However, that law seems to have had no significant impact on
Acres says opinion from the advisory committee lends credibility to the county’s early concerns and raises new questions about how pistol permits have been handled in the county.
"The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators has long been concerned with the manner in which Pistol Licensing occurs in St. Lawrence County, specifically with respect to the addition of restrictions on licenses. The opinion issued by the Judicial Conduct Board of the Office of Court Administration confirms that we have had reason to be concerned.
The opinion indicates that a Judge who initiates the filing of petitions for revocations is essentially taking authority and discretion granted to the District Attorney or the County Attorney as to who will be prosecuted. It’s my understanding that this has been the practice of our County Court for more than 10 years now.
With the addition of the SAFE Act, a judge, under the current practice, could revoke an unrestricted license and reissue a restricted license, acting as both judge and prosecutor. This is a violation of the separation of powers and makes it clear that any Judge who has engaged in the practice has acted in a biased manner and not as an impartial, neutral third party to the process.
It seems clear that the only way to resolve this issue is to ask that the state change the law to permit the chief law enforcement officer of each county to act as the licensing authority, removing that discretion from the Judge and removing the potential allegation that the Judge is acting outside the scope of their authority.
Further, the opinion makes it clear that it is up to the District Attorney or the County Attorney who gets prosecuted for SAFE Act violations, not the Court,” Acres said in an emailed statement.
It is unclear what impact the advisory opinion will have on the permitting process in St Lawrence County.