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Justice on a deadline?

By JOLEEN FERRIS

NEW YORK STATE (WKTV) - There was a time when deliberating juries would stay at the courthouse late into the night and into the early morning hours until they reached a verdict.

However, in Herkimer County Court on Monday, the state's money problems forced that era to come to an abrupt end, as County Court Judge Patrick Kirk told jurors deliberating the fate of a local restaurant owner accused of rape that they had to go home and continue their deliberations on Tuesday because the state wants an end to overtime.

Defense Attorney Rebecca Wittman can remember waiting in court until after 1 a.m. for a verdict. She questions the wisdom of allowing the state's wallet, not a deliberating juror's judgment, to dictate deliberations.

"Jurors are never happy if they want to stay and somebody tells them they have to go home," says Wittman, who wonders if Marra's guilty verdict would have been different if jurors had been allowed to deliberate as long as they saw fit.

"There's kind of lawyer folklore that you want them to stay," she said. "You don't really want to send them home at night because it seems there's a tendency to go home, sleep on it, come back and then think about it for a few minutes then come out and convict, kind of like what just happened in Herkimer County."

The communications director for the State Office of Court Administration says severe budget cuts have forced the state to cut corners any place they can.

"We're asking judges to conclude business by 4:30 so we don't incur overtime. That's the result of rather drastic budget cuts. It's one way that we know we can achieve some savings," says David Bookstaver.

Bookstaver says the official e-mail memo has not yet gone out to all administrative judges in the state, but that it will in the coming days. He says many local administrators already know about it and are already adhering to it.

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