December 31, 2013
Retiring Homer judge will miss the bench
HOMER — In almost four decades of working in law enforcement and serving Cortland County, Gary Shiffer said he has never stopped learning about the law and about people even as he prepares to step down from his position as Homer Town Justice after eight years.
Originally from Binghamton, Shiffer, 69, served as a state trooper for over 30 years and retired as a zone commander before being tapped by Gov. George Pataki for a state Homeland Security position he held for an additional two years.
Shiffer said he was so used to working that by 2005, when he was looking for something to do with his time, it was his former colleagues who gave him the idea to run for town justice.
“A lot of troopers were encouraging me to come up and get involved in this,” Shiffer said. “I’ve always been interested in the law (and) I believed I had the proper attitude to serve my community.”
Shiffer ran for the seat left vacant when former Town Justice Karen Caminiti did not seek re-election and beat Democratic candidate Peggy Murphy. He began serving on Jan. 1, 2006. During that time, one of the major issues of concern to the town was how the incoming judge would handle a large number of loose and unlicensed dogs making residents uncomfortable, and Shiffer said the first big case he heard dealt with that issue.
The case revolved around the owners of a 2-year-old pit bull involved in three separate aggressive incidents, including one in which it attacked another dog on the street. When the dog’s owners failed to pay fines and follow court orders, he ordered the dog be euthanized.
Shiffer said that case and the few civil cases that followed made him realize the job he signed up for was not going to be easy.
“I had to make an agonizing decision,” Shiffer said, “and it dawns on you real quick: this is why you’re the judge. You’ve got to make the decision. Just the first year of being the town justice was incredible.”
Although at times the job could be a little overwhelming, Shiffer said he liked the challenges of decision-making and studying the smaller details of the law is something he will genuinely miss when he leaves Dec. 31.
“What I’m going to miss is the legal challenge,” Shiffer said, “An attorney will come in and throw motions at you ... and a lot of time what they’re doing is simply testing you to see if you know what you’re doing or not. That’s what I’m going to miss most about this job. The intellectual challenge.”
Shiffer said he feels comfortable leaving, knowing the Town Court is in good fiscal shape. Under Shiffer, the court’s budget has not seen an increase for the last three years and he is confident in the abilities of Town Justice-elect William Foley, who he said has been in court learning the ropes since winning the November election.
Shiffer said he wanted to thank his clerk, Stacy Hall; his bailiff, Tom Huttleston; the Homer Town Board and Cortlandville Town Justice Francis Casullo whom he worked with often.
Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said he was honored to work with Shiffer for the past eight years and returned the thanks, adding he appreciated everything Shiffer did for the town.
“He was a true professional,” Forbes said. “I think he’s done a tremendous job ... and I can’t say enough about the service he provided.”
Shiffer said he looks forward to spending more time with wife, Cathy, and their children and grandchildren. He said he was grateful for the opportunity he had to serve his community and the time is right for him to step down.
“We’ve come a long way over the last eight years,” Shiffer said. “I’m not leaving because I don’t like the job. It’s just time.”
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