SHERMAN — A dispute which began in September of 2019 in the town of Sherman has finally reached its conclusion, leaving Sherman with no town justices.
On Feb. 8, Town Justice James L. Van Volkenburg submitted his letter of resignation to the New York State Unified Court System, along with notification to the Office of Justice Court Support.
This was followed by his letter of intent to resign for the purpose of retirement from the town. According to Van Volkenburg, carbon copies were also sent to the Eighth Judicial District Court in Buffalo, which has been closely following what has been happening.
Van Volkenburg’s resignation was accepted and approved by the Sherman Town Board at a special meeting last week.
This decision is the culmination of a series of events, beginning with the Sherman Town Board’s decision in September 2019 to eliminate Van Volkenburg’s position and retain only Justice Doug Neal. However, after 72 residents signed a petition for a public vote on the matter, a townwide vote determined that the town would retain two justices.
In reinstating Van Volkenburg’s position, however, the town reset his salary. This resulted in a reduction from $6,630 to $3,000. Neal received a salary of $6,700 for 2020.
Neal subsequently announced his decision to retire, effective Dec. 31, 2020, leaving Sherman with Van Volkenburg as the lone town justice. At this point, the board voted to increase Van Vokenburg’s salary to $5,000.
Mark Persons, town supervisor, said the decision was based on a decrease of court cases through the years, as well as a deficit in the court budget.
“The court ran a $8,654 deficit last year,” Persons said.
In regard to this decision, Van Volkenburg’s wife Rose pointed out that the total justice salary budgeted for 2021 and approved by the Town Board is $9,700. She also said that she and her husband feel the salary is unfair because the case load will increase dramatically when the courts reopen.
Persons responded by saying that there will be a backlog of cases carried over from last year. However, Persons said, while there will be some catching up to do, the overall case load is way down.
“Based on that and the deficit, that was one of the reasons the board was very careful to set the wage at an equitable amount,” he said.
Van Volkenburg responded that the courts were closed by New York state because of the COVID-19 pandemic and have been closed for more than 12 months. It is hard to estimate the number of cases pending and the work load will be substantial.
Van Volkenburg’s letter of resignation simply states that he is resigning for the purpose of retirement. He notes that “it has been a privilege to serve the residents of the town of Sherman since my election in 1985.”
While Van Volkenburg’s letter makes no mention of violations of Justice Court Administration law by the town of Sherman, Rose Van Volkenburg said “it is clear that when Jim’s position was reinstated and they reduced his 2020 salary to $3,000 and paid Judge Neal $6,700, they were in violation as there cannot be arbitrary salary discrimination among justices of the same locality.”