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Judge Palermo takes on new role of full-time Watertown magistrate

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As her caseload soon will drastically increase, City Judge Catherine J. Palermo looks forward to her role as Watertown’s new full-time magistrate.

Judge Palermo, 45, became Watertown’s second full-time judge after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation Dec. 19 that increases the number of full-time city judges across the state. The state Legislature passed the measure last spring; it sat on the governor’s desk until he signed it.

As an appointed judge, she will not have to run for election. She joins Judge Eugene R. Renzi as a full-time judge on the bench. Her term expires in 2018.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with Judge Renzi and the staff is great.”

Her full-time status becomes effective April 1 and will continue for the remainder of the term of office to which she was appointed, said Supreme Court Judge James C. Tormey, who also serves as the Fifth District administrative judge.

After her term expires, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, with the advice and consent of the Watertown City Council, then will either reappoint Judge Palermo or appoint someone else for a 10-year term.

City Council members appointed Judge Palermo in January 2012 with the retirement of City Judge James C. Harberson. She replaced former part-time Judge Renzi after he was elected to the full-time position in November 2011.

As a result of her full-time appointment, she will close her small private practice in which she answers telephones, does all of her own research and works on cases by herself. Her salary will go from $27,200 to $108,800, according to the legislation.

In recent months, Ms. Palermo has been spending more time in Judge Renzi’s absence and on weekends conducting arraignments. The full-time position will allow her to prepare more for individual cases, she said.

“It’s going to be a positive thing,” she said.

The addition of a full-time judge and clerk most likely will mean the state Office of Court Administration will have to lease more City Hall space, the mayor said. The state also pays the judges’ and staff’s salary.

On Thursday, Mayor Graham, the two judges and a handful of city officials had a teleconference with Judge Tormey’s staff to discuss what changes must be made to City Hall accommodate to a second courtroom and office space for the second full-time judge and her clerk.

They discussed several options, but will meet soon to look over the space before plans are submitted to the Fifth District, the mayor said.

It is too early to know how much the renovations will cost, he said.

City courts around the state have been handling an increasing number of cases each year, putting pressure on judges and creating a backlog of litigation that threatens to undermine the local court system, according to a periodic assessment of the state’s city courts.

The change from part-time judges to full-time status also is happening in the cities of Albany, Binghamton, Ithaca, Jamestown, Kingston, Lockport, Middletown, New Rochelle, Norwich, Oneida, Rome, Saratoga Springs and White Plains.

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