St. Lawrence County wants to remove pistol licensing responsibility from judges following state conduct board opinion
Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - 9:36 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON – In the wake of an opinion issued by the Judicial Conduct Board, St. Lawrence County legislators are calling on the state to remove the responsibility for issuing pistol licenses from judges.

The opinion, dated Dec. 7, states that the decision to initiate licensing revocations or suspensions should be made by prosecuting agencies such as district attorneys, not judges.

According to the county resolution, changing this responsibility would remove the potential for impropriety of judges acting as prosecutor and judge on issues related to the permitting process.

As it stands, the St. Lawrence County judge not only issues the licenses, but may also unilaterally revoke or restrict a license without review.

Because of the state board ruling, county legislators are asking the state to remove that responsibility from judges in order “create uniformity in the issuance of pistol licenses within the county and state.”

The resolution says that “in the absence of state legislative change, the board of legislators is of the opinion that the decision to prosecute pistol license revocations should rest solely with a prosecuting agency, whether that be the district attorney or county attorney.”

“The board of legislators believes it is in the best interests of all that the state creates legislation to address this issue permanently and grant counties the ability to designate a different pistol licensing officer,” the resolution says.

After the ruling opinion was released in December, St. Lawrence County Chairman Kevin Acres called for change.

"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," Acres said in an email response to questions.

"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," Acres said.

"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 a statement following the release of the judicial opinion, Acres said.

The resolution passed in a 13-0 vote with two members of the legislature absent from the meeting.