GOSHEN – Orange County judges are reviewing 236 gun permit amendments the county issued without their approval and so far have reissued about 100, correcting a shortcut the Clerk’s Office and Sheriff’s Office took without the judges’ permission in an effort to speed up the processing of amendments.
The judges were bypassed only for amendments to existing handgun licenses, not for new licenses. Amendments must be made whenever a licensee buys an additional gun, and also for reasons as minor as an address change or as significant as the lifting of restrictions on when a permit holder may carry a gun. Under state law, only judges may authorize handgun licenses and subsequent amendments to them in all upstate counties.
The issuing of amendments without judicial review appears to have come to the judges’ attention in March. Alan Scheinkman, the administrative judge who oversees the five-county Ninth Judicial District, emailed Orange County’s judges on March 30 and told them to reissue those amendments, saying, “If we can correct this problem now, it may also mitigate what may be the responsibility of the County Clerk’s personnel or Sheriff’s personnel for knowing violation of law.”
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said Wednesday that the amendments issued without a judge’s signature were invalid, and that the judges and County Clerk’s Office have sent all of the recipients letters to alert them to the error. Some judges agreed to reissue the amendments, while others were uncomfortable doing so. Of the 236 amendments, 135 are still under review, Chalfen said.
Undersheriff Ken Jones said the two county agencies began approving amendments on their own simply to relieve a massive backlog in requests, which he said typically take judges four to six weeks to sign. He pointed out that judges in other counties, including neighboring Ulster, have delegated the authority to approve permit amendments.
“To me, it seems silly to take four to six weeks,” Jones said, arguing that making a licensee wait that long to claim a newly purchased gun could be viewed as a denial of property rights.
John McGovern, chief civil officer for the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed that Ulster’s judges have agreed to let the Sheriff’s Office approve permit amendments. His office does the work so quickly that a gun buyer generally can get a signed amendment “coupon” to claim a weapon on the same day it was purchased, McGovern said.
Asked about delegating authority for amendments, Chalfen said that is not the practice in the Ninth Judicial District. He noted that Scheinkman emailed Orange County’s judges on the same day he heard they hadn’t signed amendments the county issued. Ulster and Sullivan counties are in the Third Judicial District.
When buying a gun, a license holder must leave the weapon with the dealer until returning with a signed coupon that adds the…