mailmanRecently a letter appeared in the Lansing Star questioning the credentials of Mr. W. Richard Costello for the office of town justice, basically because he is not an attorney at law. It included a less than flattering and questionable comparison to our current President. I am uncertain if the intent was a denigrating metaphor. Any concerns of this candidate's qualifications can be easily resolved with reference to the New York Courts website. Relevant high points can be paraphrased as follows:

The New York State town and village courts, collectively known as Justice Courts, handle misdemeanors and lesser offenses, although village justices often arraign defendants in felony cases which are later tried in County Courts. Outside of New York City, the 1300 locally funded courts handle nearly two million cases annually. The approximately 2200 town and village judges play a vital role in the NYS Unified Court System, dealing with both civil and criminal matters.

The argument of whether non lawyers are qualified for town justice positions has been ongoing for decades with studies dating back to the 1920s. Sensationalist stories of miscarriages of justice within the system have been published, with a particularly negative review in the NY Times in 2006. There is no question that the system is not perfect but the fact remains that approximately 70% of the village and town justices in the state are not lawyers. A 2008 study by the Special Commission on the Future of the NYS Courts concluded that requiring all of the judges to be lawyers was simply not feasible. One important factor in this conclusion was the estimated cost to the state of tens of millions of dollars.

Most lawyers, managing a busy law practice, would probably find it difficult to devote significant time and effort to these 24 hour a day on call, part-time positions with minimal remuneration. Interestingly, Liberty town justice Harold Bauman, a seasoned lawyer, has mentioned that there is no requirement in the Constitution for Supreme Court Justices to be lawyers.

Undoubtedly, there have been mistakes and even downright abuses in the system. However, at present, it appears to be the only viable alternative. Therefore, it is imperative that the "right" people get elected to these positions, even in the absence of law degrees; Dick Costello is the right kind of person for the position of town justice.

Our previous town justices, the honorable judges Spry, Ferris, Burin, Banfield (retiring) and Howell (still serving), none of whom held law degrees, have all unselfishly served the position with distinction over a great many years.

It has been repeatedly mentioned that a major advantage the local justices have is knowledge of the local people and their problems. Many have emphasized common sense, fairness and empathy as critical requirements. People skills are essential, as is the willingness to sacrifice innumerable hours, often in the middle of the night, to highly emotional and stressful circumstances in order to guarantee that justice is served in our community.

Richard Costello has repeatedly demonstrated these attributes in a long and successful career as a golf professional at Cornell University which included teaching, public relations, and administration all with unquestioned integrity and dedication.

Eric J. Trotter, D.V.M.
Lansing, New York

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