October 31, 2013
Close judge race down to the wire
3 candidates running for city judge cite varying background in legal field
After a hotly contested primary, the race for City Court judge has continued in the general election, with all three candidates still in the running.
Elizabeth Burns won the Democratic primary with 356 votes, 32 more than Ron Walsh and 87 more than Robert “Mike” Shafer. After the primary, Walsh and Shafer decided to continue their campaigns on third-party lines.
Shafer will represent the Conservative and Independence parties and Walsh will run on the Judicial Integrity and Working Families party lines.
The candidates are vying to replace City Judge Thomas Meldrim, who will retire after serving in that capacity since 1994. The term of the position is six years and pays $108,000 annually.
Burns has experience serving as an acting judge for the city beginning in 1998, when she was appointed to the position by Walsh, who was serving as mayor. After stepping down from her post for an unsuccessful campaign to be district attorney, Burns was reappointed by then-Mayor Bruce Tytler.
Burns held the part-time post for 12 years before it changed to a full-time position. After ending her judgeship in 2011, Burns became a court attorney referee, assisting the Sixth Judicial District’s administrative judge in Binghamton. Burns would be the first woman elected to the city court judge position in Cortland.
With experience serving as a judge, Burns said her ability to evaluate cases will make her the most effective judge.
“I’ve seen everything from very serious cases to the minor infractions,” she said.
Experience is one of the only measures in a judge’s race that is not dictated by stances on political issues and Burns believes that her resume sets her apart.
“I think we (the candidates) all agree that experience is important,” Burns said. “I’m the only one with judicial experience.”
Burns said that the type of crimes appearing in the area headlines shows the importance of an efficient judge.
“You make quick decisions a lot of times,” Burns said. “My experiences gives me the ability to be decisive.
Walsh has the least experience as an attorney of the candidates, but has years of experience in public policy. He served four two-year terms as mayor, as well as three two-year terms as an alderman and a two-year term as a county legislator.
A latecomer to practicing law, Walsh did not receive his law degree until 1999. Since then he has moved his practice from Syracuse to Cortland and served as the city’s corporation counsel.
Working in City Court for the past decade has shown Walsh that the most pressing need is the rate of drug-related crimes in the city.
“Right now, from my perspective, the abuse of methamphetamines, crack cocaine and prescription drugs is the biggest issue affecting Cortland,” Walsh said.
Serving as a defense attorney, Walsh said he has seen both sides of the drug issue and how it affects children as well as adults.
“I’ve spent hours and hours in that court room,” Walsh said.
Walsh championed his experience with the community, especially serving time as mayor and being a lifelong resident of the community. He insists that he has the temperament and experience to be a quality judge.
“One that will be fair, will be consistent, that will be firm and has experience in the community,” Walsh said, of what type of judge he will be.
Shafer has not held a government position but does have a wealth of experience as an attorney. He has over 30 years of trial experience, including time as a law guardian while managing a law firm in the city, Riehlman, Shafer & Shafer.
For Shafer, the administrative inefficiency of the judgeship and the timeliness which cases are dealt with takes precedence.
“I think the most significant issues facing the court is efficient handling of the City Court’s workload,” Shafer said. “From the judge’s perspective, he or she wants to have cases heard in a timely manner.”
While he may have different experiences, Shafer believes he is more than qualified to handle the position.
“I’ve had to balance the time constraints of handling the firm while balancing my own work load,” Shafer said. “I don’t think there’s a substitute for that experience.”
Shafer also believes that having no political allegiances sets him apart in a race determined by experience and qualifications, not a stance on political issues.
“I came to this campaign with no political agenda or political allegiance,” he said.
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