2022 VCH Annual Court Report 2023-VCH Annual Report

Village Court

Village of Cayuga Heights Court
836 Hanshaw Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Village Justice: Kathleen Bergin
Email: kbergin@cayuga-heights.ny.us
Phone: (607) 257-3944
Fax: (607) 257-8615

Associate Village Justice: TBD

Court Clerk: Penny Grant
Email: pgrant@nycourts.gov
Phone: (607)257-3944
Fax: (607) 257-8615

The Village of Cayuga Heights Court serves the community by adjudicating a wide variety of civil and criminal matters.  The annual case-load is between 1,000 and 1,500 cases, most of which are Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions, but many are more traditional criminal or civil matters.   The court is staffed by a part-time Court Clerk, Penny Grant, and Village Justice, Kathleen Bergin.  There is also an Associate Village Justice, who presides in a few cases each year when Justice Bergin feels there might be a conflict of interest or is unable to hold court. Court meets every other Thursday at 5:30pm.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Yes, but you are not required to have an attorney. If you need extra time to find one, you must
request an adjournment from the Court through the Court Clerk.
You also have a right to a Court-appointed attorney, at no cost to you, if you meet all of
the following:

  1. You are charged with either a misdemeanor, felony or non-vehicle and traffic law
    infraction; and
  2. You submit to the Assigned Counsel Program [Center Ithaca, Box 149, Suite 223, 171
    East State Street, Ithaca, NY 14850, 607-272-7487] the appropriate documentation that proves
    that your income and assets are too low for you to afford an attorney; and
  3. You want an attorney to represent you.

If you are given a traffic ticket for an infraction, you must “appear” before the Court on the date
indicated on the ticket. Failing to appear may result in the suspension or revocation of your
driver’s license or right to drive in New York. Appearing before the Court can be done several

  1. You may complete section A or B on the ticket to indicate your plea of either guilty or
    not guilty. You then mail the entire ticket to the court well in advance of the court date listed on the ticket.
  2. You may appear in person.

If you are given an accusatory instrument or ticket for a misdemeanor or felony or a non-traffic
ticket for an infraction, you must appear before the Court on the date indicated on the
accusatory instrument or ticket. Failing to appear may result in the issuance of a warrant for
your arrest and/or the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license or right to drive in New

You may telephone (607-257-3944) or email (pkannus@cayuga-heights.ny.us) the Court Clerk
to request an adjournment. Be sure to make your request as soon as possible and leave your
name, phone number, email address, mailing address and reason for your requested delay so the
Court Clerk can respond.

A supporting deposition is a more detailed account of the ticket you were issued and you have a
right to see it before entering your plea. If you do not receive it as part of the ticket, you may
request it when you return the ticket to the Court or when you appear before the Court.

A plea agreement is an alternative resolution of the pending charges that is a three-party
agreement between: (1) the defendant (and his/her attorney if one exists), (2) the People (the
Assistant District Attorney or his/her designee, e.g. the police officer) and (3) the judge. To
initiate discussions about the possibility of a plea bargain, you or your attorney may contact Dan
Johnson, an Assistant District Attorney at the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office, 320
North Tioga Street, Ithaca, NY 14750 or at djohnson@tompkins-co.org to discuss a possible
negotiated plea disposition. Please understand that the Assistant District Attorney is not your
attorney, but is the prosecutor. Further, even assuming that you and the Assistant District
Attorney reach a tentative agreement on some alternative resolution of the pending charges, you
and the People must convince the Court that the proposed plea bargain alternative is appropriate
and just, because it requires all three parties to agree. And, of course, even though you
considered or started negotiations for a plea bargain, you may change your mind and enter a plea
of NOT GUILTY and the case will be scheduled for trial.

By pleading “not Guilty” you exercise your right to a public trial at which the People of the State
of New York, represented by the prosecutor, must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you
have committed the offense alleged in the accusatory instrument. At the trial you will have the
right to hear, see and challenge the evidence submitted to prove your guilt, including confronting
by cross-examination, the Police Officer, Peace Officer or other witness or witnesses who testify
against you. You have the right to have witnesses testify on your behalf and you may, but you
are not required to, testify on your own behalf. The fact that you may not testify will not be used
against you. The court will determine, after hearing all the evidence submitted at the trial,
whether or not the People have proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and will render an
appropriate verdict.

By pleading “Guilty” you waive your right to a trial at which the People of the State of New
York represented by the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed
the offense alleged in the accusatory instrument. A Plea of Guilty will subject you to sentencing,
by the judge presiding, to any legally authorized sentence. You may withdraw, with the court’s
permission, your plea of guilty at any time prior to sentencing and exercise your right to a trial.

As stated above, if you decide to plead “guilty” you are making a knowing, intelligent and
voluntary waiver of many of your rights, including, all those mentioned above, You also must
understand that:

  • your guilty plea cannot be caused by threats or promises undisclosed on the Court’s open
  • the penalties imposed may be the same as you might face if you were convicted after a trial;
  • some convictions (felonies and misdemeanors) could have a negative impact on your
    immigration status or your ability to be hired for some jobs and become a permanent criminal
  • you may ask the judge questions or request a delay in order to consult with an attorney any
  • if you have an attorney, you must tell the Court if you are not satisfied with his/her
  • you are admitting to the facts on which the charge is based; and
  • after pleading guilty, you may address the Court regarding the penalty.

The penalties depend on the charge(s) on which a defendant pleads or is found guilty.
They could include: fines, surcharges, Department of Motor Vehicle “points,” Department of
Motor Vehicle administrative fees, time in jail, suspension or revocation of driver’s license or
driving privileges. Usually, there are minimums and maximums and the ranges can change
depending on whether the conviction is a first offense or an additional one. There are also other
possible collateral effects that could occur from a conviction, e.g. insurance costs or coverage,
immigration implications, creation of a criminal record, etc. You should always ask the judge
what the range of penalties is before entering a guilty plea. Further, before you are actually
sentenced you and the People will be permitted to tell the judge anything the judge should know
before s/he pronounces the sentence.

Most often there is a range of penalties possible and the judge has to set a penalty within the
range. If you wish to make a statement that might impact the penalty, you may send it to the
Court or you may appear at a sentencing. After sentencing, the Court will set the penalty and send
notice of it and the instructions for payment. See ://dmv.ny.gov

The NYS Department of Motor Vehicles sets the points, not the Court. For the most current
information, go to http://dmv.ny.gov

If you receive too many points from the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles you will be
required to pay an administrative fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is separate from
any fines or surcharges paid to the court. For more information, you can go to:
http://dmv.ny.gov/org/tickets/pay-driver-responsibility-assessment and pay that fee.

The Court accepts payment by: cash, personal check, bank check, business check, money order,
credit or debit card. Note that there is usually a fee charged by your bank if you pay by credit or
debit card. If you need time to pay the fines and fees, let the Court know and the Court will give
you a reasonable period in which to pay them and if you prefer periodic payments, the Court will
set up a reasonable schedule.

You can pay by mail by making the check or money order out to “Village of Cayuga Heights Court” and mailing it to:
Village of Cayuga Heights Court
836 Hanshaw Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Any questions you have about payment can be addressed to the Court Clerk at the mailing address above, or by calling: 607-257-3944 or by emailing: pkannus@nycourts.gov

You need to contact the Court Clerk to schedule a date/time to appear before the Court. It is
important that you contact the Clerk immediately in order to avoid the possibility of your
driver’s license being suspended or revoked and/or a warrant being issued for your arrest.

Small claims need to be filed with the Court Clerk. The party against whom you are filing must
live, work, or have a place of business in the Village of Cayuga Heights. You must have the
exact mailing address. Post office boxes are not acceptable. The allowable maximum amount to
claim is $3,000.00. For claims up to $1,000.00, the filing fee is $10.00. For claims over $1,000
the filing fee is $15.00. You must call ahead to make an appointment to file the paperwork. For
more information, you may pick up the New York State Guide to Small Claims Court at the
court office. While the Court will not delay your small claims case without your agreement, you
may also want to consider using the services of the Community Dispute Resolution Center
(C.D.R.C., 171 E State St Box 111, Ithaca, NY 14850, (607) 273-9347). CDRC provides
mediation for people with disputes and this often results in resolutions that are more
appropriate to the needs of the parties than a court might be able to provide.

If you believe that the Court made an error in your case, you may appeal to the
Tompkins County Court. You must file a Notice of Appeal with the Village of Cayuga
Heights Court within 30 days after you are sentenced (infraction or crime) or are served with
a notice of entry of the judgment (civil). You may arrange (at your expense) for a transcript
of proceedings. The Court Clerk will provide you a list of certified transcribers at your
request. Appeals are very complex, time-sensitive and you should seek the assistance of an

Case Jurisdiction

Generally, the court’s jurisdiction is limited to events occurring within the Village of Cayuga Heights.  There are exceptions, though, e.g. Justice Bergin can arraign defendants on criminal charges arising in surrounding communities if the justice from the home jurisdiction is unavailable; the Village Court may hear civil small claims cases if the defendant lives in the Village even though the transaction in question occurred outside the Village.

The most common types of cases handled by the Village of Cayuga Heights Court include:

  • Parking tickets: Most are handled administratively, but if contested, the justice will arraign and try the case.
  • Vehicle and Traffic Law Infractions: The majority of the Court’s cases and usually involve arraignments and, if contested, non-jury trials.
  • Other Infractions: Often minor violations of Village ordinances or New York law, and while they are criminal in nature, are less serious than misdemeanors or felonies, e.g. being in Sunset Park after it is closed; permitting one’s dog to run free outside the owner’s property.  Like the Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions the Justice has jurisdiction to take the case from arraignment through trial.
  • Misdemeanors: Criminal charges whose maximum penalty can be up to a year in jail.  They usually are violations of the New York Penal Law, but many Vehicle and Traffic Law violations also are misdemeanors, e.g., driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, aggravated unlicensed operation.  These charges, while not quite as serious as felonies, do entitle the defendant to a jury trial and a court appointed (Tompkins County funded) attorney if the defendant is indigent.
  • Felonies: The most serious criminal cases, and the Court has preliminary jurisdiction only, i.e. the Village Court may do the initial arraignment (appraise the defendant of his/her rights, appoint counsel and determine bail) and a preliminary hearing (determine if the defendant should be held for action by the Grand Jury).
  • Small Claims: Law suits brought by a person against a person or business who is located or has a place of business in the Village.  The maximum the Court may award a party is  limited to $3,000.  These cases are often also referred to the Community Dispute Resolution Center for possible mediation, but if that fails, the Village Court will preside over the trial.  Small Claims cases have somewhat relaxed rules of procedure and evidence and often do not have (but may) attorney representation.
  • Regular Civil Claims: Like Small Claims cases, the maximum amount that generally may be awarded is $3,000.  Unlike Small Claims cases, jurisdiction is generally based on the event in question having occurred within the Village, as opposed to the residence/location of the Small Claim’s defendant being in the Village.  Also, the procedural and evidentiary rules are more formal and, while not required, representation by an attorney is usually very helpful.

For your information, the following sheet, Rights & Warnings For Traffic Violations, is provided to all people appearing in the Village Court.  It applies most specifically to persons charged with traffic infractions.  The rights and warnings for people charged with other offenses can be significantly different, and those are always done separately.

Annual Reports

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