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Courtwatching: Meet a Troy city marshal

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Courtwatching: Meet a Troy city marshal

Courtwatching is a quasi-weekly series in which, as the name implies, we write about Capital Region courts of law. Reach out (luke@thealt.com) with tips or topic suggestions.

Troy has five city marshals, all appointed to two-year terms by the city council. Their job is to serve tenants with eviction-related petitions filed by landlords in city court and, if landlords obtain judgments and warrants to evict, serve those papers, too.

Once eviction warrants are served, within 72 hours—the clock starts at midnight and stops on weekends and holidays—tenants must leave the premises. If they don’t, marshals return to usher them out.

When Judge Matthew Turner orders an eviction, he typically asks the landlord or their attorney if they prefer a certain marshal. If they do not, the job goes to whoever is on call that week.

Contacted this week, the city clerk did not have any contact information for the marshals, and the court clerk’s office only agreed to pass along notes saying that we hoped to speak with them. Eventually, through a different source, we obtained phone numbers for three of the marshals, and spoke with one, Jack McCann.

McCann is the former city Democratic committee chair and a current member of the zoning board of appeals. After a two-year hiatus (when Republicans controlled the city council), he returned to his post as marshal this January.

“I take a little longer than most marshals because that’s just the way I am,” said McCann, describing his approach to the job. “Believe it or not, Luke, you get to help people.”

McCann has sat at kitchen tables with tenants to talk budgeting, he said. He relies on his extensive local ties for de-escalatory purposes (“I knew your sister in high school, she’s a great kid”). He often makes calls or referrals to local charities like Joseph’s House or Unity House (“they’re underrated”), and takes particular care with veterans, for whom he has a “soft spot.”

Since eviction warrants don’t expire for 30 days, it’s not uncommon for McCann to broker deals between landlords and tenants that extend the latter’s departure date.  

Though marshals enforce the court’s rulings, they are paid by landlords. Fees are fixed: $45 to serve the notice of petition and petition (plus a few dollars extra if sending certified mail is necessary), and $105 to serve the eviction warrant and see the process to its conclusion.

That process, at least as practiced by McCann, includes recording a “video inventory” with his phone of the tenants’ left-behind belongings. (He prefers that tenants accompany him as he goes room-to-room, so he doesn’t miss anything.) After an eviction, landlords must store these items for at least 30 days. McCann helps make arrangements for tenants, after they’ve been evicted, to return and get their stuff.

McCann repeatedly requested that, in this article, we mention the diligence of “the staff behind that plexiglass”—the employees of the city court clerk’s office on State Street.

“Dealing with the public, they take a lot of abuse but they’re always so gracious and so calm—it’s incredible,” he said, adding that, when he picks up the paperwork they prepare, he often hears them fielding difficult phone calls. “They get called every name in the book.”

The use of marshals, rather than private process servers or deputy sheriffs, is “fairly unusual” in the five counties served by the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, managing attorney Robert Romaker told The Alt. Although, for tenants, it might not matter much who serves the initial paperwork, marshals tend to serve eviction warrants “much faster than deputy sheriffs in other courts, which results in tenants having to move much sooner,” he said.

For instance, when “a tenant loses an eviction hearing and the court grants the eviction, tenants in Troy are often served with the warrant that same day,” Romaker said. “In other areas, it can take as long as 1-3 weeks, depending on where the tenant lives in the county and how busy the Sheriff’s office is.”

McCann, confirming this, pointed out that the longer tenants remain in possession of the property, the more they might end up owing in rent. 

ICYMI: Read the first story in this ongoing series, on rent abatement hearings, here.

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