Judges bound by the law

in

To The Editor:
I read with deep concern the letter from Warren Slavin, candidate for Middletown Town Justice, regarding what he intends to do if he is elected. I am resident of the Town of Middletown and have been a practicing lawyer for over 25 years. I have worked with judges of many different courts, and have worked on judicial campaigns. Thus, I have an understanding of the many rules that apply to judges. There are very strict rules regarding what judicial candidates are permitted to say as part of a political campaign. First and foremost, neither a judge nor a candidate for judge can prejudge a case or state how s/he might judge a case or sentence a defendant if elected. EVER! To do so is an ethical violation.

Regardless of what Mr. Slavin says, he would be bound by the laws and the penalties prescribed for those laws. He suggests he would have total discretion to prescribe punishment based on what he thinks the law should be, not necessarily what it actually is. This is a dangerous path and I urge voters to be wary of any candidate who states how he or she will handle crime and punishment before viewing the facts of the individual case. For instance, his comments suggest that he would view DWI as a victimless crime so long as no one is injured, even when the driver refuses a sobriety test. However, the law requires that a license be immediately revoked if a sobriety test is refused. If they couldn’t afford bail, he would, essentially, just let them go. Mr. Slavin suggests that the appropriate penalty that he would impose is community service. While community service certainly has its place in the judicial system, having people work for a “struggling [private] business” at no cost does not come under the rubric of community service. I believe the appropriate word for that is called slavery. The last time I read the Constitution that was not allowed, unless the Supreme Court overturned the 13th Amendment without my knowledge.

In addition, town justices do not possess the authority to send people to prison. The most they can do is send them to county jail. The absurdities of Mr. Slavin’s views, which flout the rule of law, are a danger to the community and speak to his lack of knowledge and qualification for this position. The fact that he has specified how he would rule in cases before he even knows the case-specific facts (a misdemeanor is still a crime) is inappropriate and highly unethical. I would suspect that the Office of Court Administration would not look favorably on Mr. Slavin’s comments should they be so informed.

Unfortunately, the training for town justices, whether they are attorneys or not, is minimal: five days of initial training and then 24 hours of training every two years. Lay persons without any formal knowledge of the law should be ineligible to mete out justice in our lowest court, which is the one closest to the people. While we can’t change the requirements for qualifications at the election level (that is up to the State legislature), it is up to the electors on November 5 to ensure that an inexperienced lay person does not sit on the bench in Middletown Justice Court. Fortunately for Middletown, Mr. Slavin is opposed by a highly qualified candidate, John Fairbairn III, a fine attorney who has spent the past five years trying cases before those courts, has developed a reputation as a knowledgeable criminal attorney, and whose fairness and integrity are unquestionable.

Dennis Metnick,
Margaretville