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Erie County Family Court


Our Court

The Erie County Family Courthouse is located at One Niagara Plaza in downtown Buffalo, New York. The court operates daily between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The staff includes six Judges, seven Support Magistrates, three Court Attorney Referees, and one Judicial Hearing Officer. Our sitting Judges are:

Hon. Mary Carney
Hon. Kevin M. Carter
Hon. Sharon Lovallo
Hon. Lisa Bloch Rodwin
Hon. Margaret Szczur
Hon. Deanne Tripi

The Court's Jurisdiction
The Family Court has jurisdiction over the following classes of actions and proceedings which shall be originated in such family court in the manner provided by law: (1) the protection, treatment, correction and commitment of those minors who are in need of the exercise of the authority of the court because of circumstances of neglect, delinquency or dependency, as the legislature may determine; (2) the custody of minors except for custody incidental to actions and proceedings for marital separation, divorce, annulment of marriage and dissolution of marriage; (3) the adoption of persons; (4) the support of dependents except for support incidental to actions and proceedings in this state for marital separation, divorce, annulment of marriage or dissolution of marriage; (5) the establishment of paternity; (6) proceedings for conciliation of spouses; and (7) as may be provided by law: the guardianship of the person of minors and in conformity with the provisions of section seven of this article crimes and offenses by or against minors or between spouses or between parent and child or between members of the same family or household.

The Family Court also has jurisdiction to determine, with the same powers possessed by the Supreme Court, the following matters when referred to the Family Court from the Supreme Court: habeas corpus proceedings for the determination of the custody of minors; and in actions and proceedings for marital separation, divorce, annulment of marriage and dissolution or marriage, applications for fix temporary or permanent support and custody, or applications to enforce judgments and orders of support and of custody, or applications to modify judgments and orders of support and of custody which may be granted only upon a showing to the Family Court that there has been a subsequent change of circumstances and that modification is required.


A Proud History: Erie County Family Court
Buffalo Children's Court, the origin of Family Court as we know it, was born through the efforts of public-minded citizens. These citizens saw a need to move away from the harsh and often cruel punishment of youthful offenders, and toward the more proactive approach of rehabilitation.

In February of 1900 the first action was taken by one group of citizens. The Charity Organization of Buffalo, New York organized a committee of probation officers. They used their connection to a police justice named Thomas Murphy to try children's cases separate from adult offenders. Just over one year later, in 1901, Judge Murphy opened the first children's Court in a room of the County Agency for Destitute Children. The Court served as a model for similar courts throughout New York State. It operated as a branch of Buffalo City Court and included its own probation department initially consisting of volunteer officers.

Not long after, a Domestic Relations Court was established. It also operated as a branch of Buffalo City Court, and was the first of its kind in the world when Judge Simon A. Nash originated it in 1909. Judge Nash was concerned with the public's interest in viewing marital hearings, the details of which were often considered scandalous. He initiated the idea of setting aside a specific part of the court for private hearings, free from intrusion by the public and press.

In 1912, a new Children's Court was established. While the Children's and Domestic Relations Courts discussed above were branches of City Court, this new court was completely separate. The first judge to preside over the court was Judge George E. Judge. As was set forth in Judge Judge's first annual report of March 12, 1913, the Children's Court, in compliance with the Children's Court Act, was divided into two parts, one for the trial of adults and the other for the trial of children. Keeping in mind the ultimate purpose of separating children from adult criminal offenders, the two parts were held in separate buildings.

In 1926 a new County Court was established. Prior to the establishment of this court, children's cases from other parts of Erie County were handled by peace justices. Children's Court was still in existence at the time and the activities of the two courts overlapped. The Buffalo Council of Social Agencies recognized the need to combine the courts and pushed for passage of legislation to do just that. They were successful. In 1931, state legislation was passed and one court was created with jurisdiction over all children 16 years old and younger throughout Erie County and Buffalo. On April 1, 1931, Governor Roosevelt signed the three bills which established the structure of the new County Children's Court and abolished the existing City Children's Court.

The bills bore the name of Buffalo Republican, Senator William J. Hickery. Assemblyman William L. Marcy, Jr. of Buffalo presented the lower house companion measures. Appeals for the approval of the "Hickey-Marcy program" came from a variety of groups throughout the county, including social welfare, children's aid, and religious and civic organizations. The program became effective at the expiration of Judge's term. The 19th annual report of the City Children's Court, dated April 30, 1932, was Judge's final report. He was not eligible to pursue the office of County Children's Court Judge because he was not an attorney.

The new Children's Court judges were elected for six year terms. The first to be elected was a woman named Cecil B. Weiner. During her term, much was said about her belief in "private home detention" for those children who would be helped by detention. At this time, Buffalo was the only city which exclusively used private homes for the detention of children held in connection with Children's Court cases.

In one of her annual reports dated February 23, 1934 Judge Weiner discussed the overcrowded conditions of the Court. The Court was located in a small section of the third floor of the County Office Building on West Eagle Street. The Judge reported that 1,346 cases were handled during 1933. Judge Weiner was in office for one term. She lost the 1937 election to the Honorable Victor B. Wylegala.

Judge Wylegala was elected for four consecutive terms of office and served from 1938 until his death in 1959. It was said that under his leadership Children's Court adhered strictly to legal norms and achieved a balance between social and judicial functions.

Judge Leon W. Paxon was elected to office in 1956, and Judge Raymond R. Niemer was elected in 1959. They were elected to the office of Children's Court Judge. Their terms of office overlapped with the termination of Children's Court and the establishment of Erie County Family Court which opened on September 1, 1962 as part of a unified court stem for the state (Family Court Act Sect. 113).

The Act which established the state-wide Family Court was promulgated by laws 1962, chapter 686. Chapter 686 was one of twenty-two court reorganizations measures enacted by the 1962 Legislature. The legislation was drawn by the Joint Legislative Committee on Court Reorganization under the committee's chairman, Senator Daniel G. Albert, and signed by Governor Rockefeller on April 24, 1962. The Family Court Act established a new court in each county to implement Article 6 of the State Constitution.

The new Family Court Act eliminated the former system, which revolved around specialized courts, withing the counties, sharing jurisdiction, and created unified jurisdiction over proceedings concerning juvenile delinquency, support, paternity, termination of parental rights, persons in need of supervision, family offenses and child protection. Actions for separation, divorce or annulment, however, were constitutionally reserved to the Supreme Court.

The first election, for two Erie County Family Court Justices, took place in 1962. Judge Taggart and Judge Carroll ran for office against John Dittman, Ruth D. Vogel and Leon Paxon. Both Judge Taggart and Judge Carroll were sworn into office for ten year terms. On September 13, 1962, they decided their first juvenile delinquency case in office. It was the first time a law guardian had ever been appointed, pursuant to the new law.

It is evident that the judges were challenged with busy caseloads during the opening days of Family Court. Frank J. Boccio was the first, and continues today as the only Chief Clerk of Family Court. In an article from the Buffalo Evening News dated September 4, 1962, he stated that the volume of cases facing Family Court on those first days was nearly three time the usual load handled by the old Children's Court.

The purpose of creating a Family Court in each county throughout the state was to established a "special agency for the care and protection of the young and preservation of the family' in each county (FAMILY COURT ACT 1962 McKinney Session Laws 3420). Erie County Family Court has benefited from the dedicated efforts of the judges listed below, all of whom have joined in the commitment of furthering that purpose. Approximately four decades ago the first Judges were sworn into office, and a century has nearly passed since social minded groups struggled to establish the first Children's Court in Buffalo. Today Erie County Family Court is served by six Judges, seven Support Magistrates, and one Judicial Hearing Officer who heard over 32,000 cases requiring 80,000 court hearings in 1997. Today Family Court still struggles, amidst increasing caseloads and limited resources to achieve the same goal of serving as a forum for children and families in crisis

We in Family Court look forward to many more years of service to the children and families of Erie back to topCounty.

Roster of Past and Present Children's and Family Court Judges

 

JUDGE TERM COURT
George E. Judge 1912-1931 City of Buffalo Childrens Court
Cecil B. Weiner 1932-1937 Erie County Children's Court
Victor B. Wylegala 1938-1959 Erie County Children's Court
Leon W. Paxon 1956-1975 Children's and Family Court
Raymond R. Niemer 1959-1975 Children's and Family Court
Madge Taggart 1963-1967 Family Court Erie County
Robert J. Carroll 1963-1966 Family Court Erie County
J. Douglas Trost 1966-1980 Family Court Erie County
Mary Ann Killeen 1968-1989 Family Court Erie County
James B. Kane 1969-1975 Family Court Erie County
Edward V Mazur 1976-1987 Family Court Erie County
John J. Honan 1976-1993 Family Court Erie County
Peter J. Notaro 1976-1991 Family Court Erie County
Victor E. Manz 1977-1991 Family Court Erie County
Frank A. Sedita, Jr. 1981-1989 Family Court Erie County
John F. O'Donnell 1988-1995 Family Court Erie County
Anthony P. Lorusso 1990-1993 Family Court Erie County
Timothy J. Trost 1990 Family Court Erie County
James H. Dillon 1991- Family Court Erie County
Sharon S. Townsend 1992-2003 Family Court Erie County
Marjorie C. Mix 1993-2001 Family Court Erie County
Janice M. Rosa 1994-2002 Family Court Erie County
Margaret O. Szczur 1994-2003 Family Court Erie County
Michael A. Battle 1996-2002 Family Court Erie County
Patricia A. Maxwell 2002-2011 Family Court Erie County
Kevin M. Carter 2002-Present Family Court Erie County
Rosalie Bailey 2003-2013 Family Court Erie County
Paul Buchanan 2004-2013 Family Court Erie County
Deborah A. Haendiges 2004- Family Court Erie County
Margaret Szczur 2005-Present Family Court Erie County
Lisa Bloch Rodwin 2008-Present Family Court Erie County
Sharon Lovallo 2012-Present Family Court Erie County
Mary Carney 2014-Present Family Court Erie County
Deanne Tripi 2014-Present Family Court Erie County

 

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