Smithfield Town Council authorizes moving forward with local court; won't handle traffic issues

Smithfield Town Council authorizes moving forward with local court; won't handle traffic issues

SMITHFIELD - The job market in Smithfield may soon improve - that is, if you're qualified to be a part-time municipal court judge.

Town officials several years ago authorized creation of a local court to deal mostly with zoning and housing violations, but in an economy move, decided against appointing a judge, without whom the court can't operate.

At the request of Town Manager Dennis Finlay, the Town Council authorized Finlay and Town Solicitor Edmund L. Alves Jr. to prepare a proposal for moving ahead with the court at its Sept. 17 meeting.

The council stressed that the agency will not deal with traffic violations. When a court proposal was last debated in 2009, some residents objected to a traffic component, fearing the town would be tempted to go overboard in issuing tickets as a way to raise money.

Traffic is off the table, Finlay said, noting that the current system of using the state Traffic Tribunal "works just fine."

Councilman Ronald Manni said another factor against a traffic component is the cost of record-keeping software.

Alves said that bringing zoning and housing violations before state courts can take years, whereas a local court could dispose of cases in weeks or months. He said many Rhode Island communities have their own courts, with Barrington the most recent to have created one.

He said that the legal mechanisms for creating a court are already in place, to the point where, "appoint a judge and it's up and running."

There was no discussion last week of who the judge might be or what salary the post will offer, or on whether the court will have a clerk or use existing municipal employees.

In another matter at its last meeting, the council transferred all the licenses currently held by Box Seats Restaurant, including the full-privilege liquor permit, to new operators who said they will run the establishment as the Continental Restaurant, specializing in Middle Eastern fare. They said they will offer live music, but only inside the building, at 332 Farnum Pike.

In a special ceremony at the meeting that included an appearance by the Police Department Honor Guard, the council presided over a ceremony for Officer Dennis Courtemanche, a member of the force since 1999 who was promoted to sergeant.

Courtemanche has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Rhode Island and bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice from Roger Williams University.