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Court Rules on Family Court Act 304 Regarding Detaining Juveniles


In a proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 to review a determination of the Director of Employee Relations of the Office of Court Administration, dated July 16, 1984, which denied the petitioners’ out-of-title work grievance, and in which the petitioners also sought declaratory relief, the petitioners appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, Queens County, which dismissed the petition on the merits, and dismissed the application for a declaratory judgment.

The Special Term correctly concluded that the determination of the Director of Employee Relations of the Office of Court Administration was not arbitrary or capricious. Based on the record before us, we have also determined that Special Term did not err when it found that the petitioners’ request for declaratory relief with respect to the possible future use of Court Officers and Senior Court Officers to guard prisoners in detention cells in courts other than the Family Court was. However, since court officers currently guard juveniles in detention cells at the Family Court, the legality of their use for this purpose is ripe for judicial resolution.

The petitioners’ basic argument is that the detention cells in the various courts are merely an extension of the county jail and that the Sheriff of Nassau County therefore exercises exclusive jurisdiction over them. With respect to the Family Court, this argument clearly lacks merit. Family Court Act § 304.1 precludes the use of a county jail or other facility used to detain adults to house juveniles. No statute gives the County Sheriff custody over juveniles at any time. Therefore, the detention cells at the Family Court are clearly not an extension of the county jail or otherwise under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sheriff.

In another family case, Defendant is before this court charged with a misdemeanor assault against his mother-in-law. After he had been removed from the court room, following an adjournment to obtain counsel, his wife and mother-in-law, in open court, appealed for physical protection stating that he had also assaulted his wife and they were in fear of further attacks. The only help the court could give was to refer the wife to the Family Court and the police. This incident has special significance in determining the question of law at the threshold of this proceeding.

There must be an immediate determination of jurisdiction. If this is an assault between members of the same family, the exclusive jurisdiction is in the Family Court.

Research has failed to reveal any decision interpreting or defining the term ‘family’ in the new Family Court Act.

Depending on the purpose and phraseology of the particular statute and the facts presented, a son-in-law and mother-in-law may, or may not be deemed members of the same family.

The lack of definitions in the Family Court Act leaves the matter in doubt. Until such doubt is resolved by the appellate courts or by legislative amendment, inferior courts must resolve such questions within their own limitations.

If the allegations of this wife and her mother are true, immediate action is required.

Were it not for the marital relationship between complainant’s daughter and this defendant the incident would never have occurred. It is directly related to the marital problem existing between the man and wife.

The hostility between son-in-law and mother-in-law may result from difficulties between the son-in-law and his wife. Or, the difficulty between the husband and wife may result from hostility between the husband and mother-in-law. Again it may be an admixture of these and other causes. At any rate it is a pattern of family trouble so recurrent and so familiar, not only to social and legal agencies but to the general public that the legislature must be deemed to have been aware of it.

A dominant purpose of the Family Court Act was to get all of the problems of a family in one forum. Fragmentation was found to be a serious handicap in treating such problems.

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