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Vote For Three: A Look At New York's 6th Judicial District Race

In the 6th Judicial district, five candidates vie to fill three open seats for New York Supreme Court. WSKG's Sarah Gager joins Morning Edition to explain more about the office and the candidates running to hold it.

Election Day is November 5th. Early voting runs until November 3rd.

6th Judicial Debrief


GABE ALTIERI: This is WSKG News. I'm Gabe Altieri.

With Election Day less than a week away, we’d like to turn our attention to a race that will be on the ballot in ten New York counties: the race for New York Supreme Court Justice of the 6th Judicial district. Here to tell us more about the race and the office the candidates hope to hold is WSKG’s Sarah Gager.

Sarah, good to have you.

SARAH GAGER: Good to be here.

GA: Let’s start with the specs.

SG: Yes, the term is 14 years. Three justices are leaving and five people are vying to replace them, and, as you said, this position incorporates ten New York counties. Let me list them off in alphabetical order: there's Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga and Tompkins County.

GA: Despite its name, New York’s Supreme Court is actually the lowest state trial court. What kind of cases are they hearing?

SG: Kind of an array. Civil litigation, personal injury, motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice cases, contract disputes, and divorce matters.

Because it’s the state’s lowest court and because of the nature of the cases brought before this court, people may find themselves coming face-to-face with the judges who are elected.

GA: Alright, nuts-and-bolts time: who’s leaving and who’s running?

SG: Three positions are opening up. Ferris Lebous from Broome County is not running for re-election, Judith O’ Shea of Chemung retired, Phillip Rumsey of Cortland was appointed to the appellate court.

Five people are running: two as Democrats, Pete Charnetsky and Claudette Newman, and three as Republicans, Honorable Christopher Baker, who has actually been Acting Justice in Chemung since O’Shea’s retirement. Then there’s Oliver Blaise III, and Mark Masler.

One little fun fact about the location of judges is that if a county has no judge that lives there, then another judge from another county will have to travel to hear cases. So for instance, O’Shea's retiring from Chemung County, where there's only judge, and Rumsey is leaving Cortland, where he’s the only judge.

GA: Alright and full disclosure: Judge Ferris Lebous is a WSKG Trustee.

SG: That's right.

GA: So why do candidates run affiliated with a party if they won’t be making policy?

SG: Well, simply, candidates have to run on a party line to be on the ballot.

That was something I was curious about, too. So I asked Judge Lebous about it when I spoke to him. He ran as a Republican, but says party affiliation really should make no difference.

FERRIS LEBOUS: In otherwards, there’s no Republican way, or no Democrat way, or no Independent way to apply the law. The law is written in black and white. The words mean what they mean and it shouldn’t make a difference when you’re applying the law whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.

SG: Not everyone agrees that the law is black and white, of course. I also spoke with the President of the Broome County Bar Association, Lauren Saleeby. She thinks that there’s a lot of gray when it comes to the law, but she fully agrees that justices make their judgments free of bias. She says in her years in the courtroom she has never found that to be an issue.

GA: The Broome County Bar Association has a press release in which they deemed all of the candidates to be highly qualified.

SG: Yeah, that means that after an extensive background check and interview process, two-thirds of an association committee gave their approval.

GA: Okay so, if all the candidates are highly qualified and their party line is inconsequential, how can voters make their decision between them?

SG: Right? Each candidate still has their platform and websites where voters can read about the candidates, and the League of Women Voters has some resources that we’ll include on WSKG.org.

Saleeby, the President of the Broome County Bar, offers some other ideas for deeper research into the candidates.

LAUREN SALEEBY: Some are currently practicing attorneys, some are currently sitting in various judicial positions, and some have actual published decisions from the different levels of the courts that you can research and read.

SG: Another interesting thing about this is that in other states, this is a position that's appointed, but in New York State it’s elected. Which Judge Lebous sees as valuable.

FL: To go to the people, particularly the people in your community, and ask them to give you this position is always a good source of check and verification.

SG: And I want to leave you with one other thing that he said to me. He said as much as voters are looking for candidates to exercise their own independence of judgement and thought, he hopes voters will do the same thing.

GA: Sarah, thanks for sharing.

SG: Happy to.

GA: Early voting in New York is already underway and runs through November 3rd. Election Day is November 5th.

This is WSKG News