Longtime New Paltz Town Court Justice Jonathan Katz faces off against a challenger, Richard LaRose, on Nov. 5. Katz, endorsed by the Democrats, has served as judge in New Paltz since the mid-1990s. LaRose, being backed by the Republicans, has been an attorney for 15 years.
The incumbent Katz sees the Town Court running well, and he’d like to continue his work. But he notes that the current court building at Village Hall has problems in terms of wheelchair access.
LaRose wants to see security and check-in protocols streamlined and he wants to make sure the court website — and the courtroom itself — are user friendly.
Here’s what the two men had to say about why they’d like to serve as town judge.
Why did you decide to run for re-election?
I enjoy being town justice and I’m good at it. I’ve got a reputation for being fair and intelligent — and for making decisions with common sense.
I started in 1995. I was appointed to fill a vacancy and the board appointed me. I’ve gone through a bunch of elective cycles since then.
What has made you a good town court justice? What other legal experience do you have outside of that work? What makes you the kind of person people should vote for?
First of all, I’ve had 30 years of practical legal experience as a practicing lawyer. And I still am a practicing lawyer. I’ve had extensive experience as a practicing lawyer in justice courts. I have very good grasp on the legal issues. I have a reputation for common sense, in terms of the way we handle the cases.
I think primarily, it’s an understanding of the community and an understanding of the law — and, I think, a good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, and how individuals should be treated.
As a college town, New Paltz gets a good share of drug and alcohol offenses — sometimes involving underage teens and college students. How lenient should a judge in a university town be when weighing the future of undergrads? How would a prior offense of lack thereof influence your judgment?
So what we do with respect to the open containers, the underage drinking, the urination in public cases — which are primarily what your question is addressed to — they are non-criminal offenses. So there is no effect on anyone’s future — no matter what happens to them as a result of the prosecution.
But we generally will fine upon a guilty plea or a conviction. There’s no jail that’s even possible for those minor infractions. And it’s important that there be a consequence for those infractions, because there are people that live around here — full-time residents — who are trying to live in a peaceful environment.
So we have to take those infractions seriously, but obviously understanding that they are minor infractions compared to criminal behavior.
There are very few serious drug cases in New Paltz. What we are primarily seeing is prosecutions for what is called unlawful possession of marijuana. That charge is not a criminal offense. The way that the law is set up is that, on a first offense, we are obligated to adjourn those cases in contemplation of dismissal.
On a first offense, people are not being convicted of low-level marijuana cases. We understand that there are financial aid issues and potential issues down the road for people’s employment — that people should be protected from having a criminal record, or even having a non-criminal drug conviction.
That’s consistent with what the Ulster County District Attorney’s office wants to do.