Lanny Walter is no stranger to the causes that affect the town of Saugerties. Back when he first moved here with his family, he became involved in the effort to stop an incinerator and landfill from taking over the Winston Farm property, and before long, he found himself the chair of Saugerties Concerned Citizens, the nonpartisan group ultimately responsible for putting the kibosh on the landfill project. Since then, he has served as chair of the No Saugerties Casino group, served on the School Board and the BOCES board for six and 12 years respectively, was a member of the Boys & Girls Club creation committee, and continues to be actively involved in such community mainstays as the Farmers Market, the Artist Studio Tours and a host of others. He even helps organize yearly street cleanings. Walter has been a town attorney and worked in his own private practice for nearly 30 years, and his wife, Carole Furman, serves on the Saugerties Town Planning Board. “It’s my nature to be involved,” said Walter, and now, he would like to parlay his decades of varied courtroom and lawyering background into serving as the Saugerties town justice. Walter is an enrolled Democrat and endorsed by both his party and the Working Families Party. He tried last year to nab his party’s nomination, but he struck out against current Town Justice Claudia Andreassen. His opponent, Dan Lamb, has two decades service as town justice.
Why are you running for office?
I believe in democracy. I believe that it’s good for elected officials to be challenged. I think it’s good that there be changes, that when people are in a job that they feel reassured that they will be in that job for as long as they want it; they can get a little less energetic about it. I think new blood, new energy, and new insights are a positive thing in government.
In some communities, court appearances, especially in traffic matters, are minimized. It’s done through communications between the defendant and prosecution of the cases, and pleas are made, and it’s all done knowing what the person’s driving record is, and if it’s appropriate, it’s done through the mail, and people don’t have to come to court. The court doesn’t have to get backed up, and there’s an efficiency to it that I don’t see in our court. Is that good for Saugerties? I’m not certain if that’s the right thing for Saugerties, but it’s certainly something I would be open to looking at and understanding if it would work in our town. As somebody who has practiced in that court and other justice courts, I’d like to bring my insights and my intelligence to bear so that that process can be done as fairly and efficiently as possible.
I have served as a judge in the past. Albany City Court has a whole arbitration program, where they refer cases to arbitrators, and I was one of those arbitrators. I would convene court in my office and hear cases and make decisions. When I left private practice for a period of time, I was a principal administrative law judge for the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. I held hearings, I did quite a lot of appeals, and I was responsible for training hearing judges and rewriting their rules and guidelines and educating them.
Also, another reason for running, there is an Ulster County dispute resolution program in existence. It has a presence at the Saugerties Town Court, but its role is limited to small claims, from what I’m told. I know elsewhere, the dispute resolution people do have a larger role, including in matters regarding landlord/tenant problems. Part of my goal of trying to enhance the efficiency of the operation is to encourage the greater use of dispute resolution.
[Additionally], as a lawyer, it’s fun progressing to be a judge. You get paid to do the job. It’s not an easy job, but I really think that after 40 years as an attorney, I am definitely ready.
What issues are you most interested in?
I don’t think having two courts in Saugerties is necessarily the best thing. To put it another way, there is a lovely courtroom in the Town Hall, and there’s a courtroom that’s not so lovely in the Village Hall. The town courtroom is in the village, and I think the village judge would enjoy having different venues. I really think that taking another look, now that we have a joint police force, at having some sort of unified court system makes sense. That’s an issue that I would like us to visit and see if it does make sense. I can’t pretend to have the answer to that question, but I definitely have the energy and capability of helping us think about that.
In terms of the landlord/tenant issues that come into the Saugerties justice court, I am an extremely experienced lawyer in that regard, and I have continued to represent both tenants and landlords here. In terms of public assistance laws in general, there are plenty of issues that come into the Saugerties court that are informed by those realities, and I’m prepared to understand those problems.
Ever since my legal services days, I’ve been a courtroom lawyer, so here I am, looking for a job in a courtroom, and I am totally at home in that environment. I have the appropriate background to do this job and do it very well.
You’ve said before it’s time for a change, referring to the incumbent’s long tenure in office. Why is it time for a change?
Nobody owns a position. One can get a bit comfortable and “do it the way we’ve always done it” mentality, which isn’t always the best. His experience is different than mine, and, without criticizing him, he may not see things that I might see in terms of the efficiency of the operation. I don’t know if his courtroom experience is as extensive as mine. I’m a different person, a different personality, so I may see things to improve. I may have an ability to relate to the staff and everybody that’s different and helpful to them; at least, I want to be helpful and positive.
This is a democracy. People are supposed to run for office. People are not anointed. From what I’ve observed in court, he does a decent job, but it’s not his. He doesn’t own it, and I think that I could do a better job.
Does your judicial philosophy differ from the incumbent? If so, in what way?
Most cases are pretty routine. I don’t find Judge Lamb to be punitive, in my limited observation, and I would not be punitive. Although, I don’t think anyone will find me as a pushover. I do see myself as free from the influences of the Powers That Be, so to speak. I’m not beholden to people who don’t want me to make certain decisions that might be adverse to them. Maybe after a lot of years, Judge Lamb is more in that position and feels those pressures more than I do.
I couch this carefully because I have nothing to point to that I really think he’s done inappropriately, but it’s good to get fresh air on something, and I’m coming along as somebody who’s very capable. I’ve been easy to work with, and it’s time for someone else to have a chance to guide the ship.
What’s your message to the voters?
They have an opportunity to put somebody in that office who is extremely experienced, has done a great deal for this community, and has earned the faith of people in this community through my volunteer efforts. It’s a good thing for the court and for our community to have some new leadership in an elected position, a paid elected position, that’s been in the hands of one person for about 20 years, and I hope they’ll give me that chance to serve them as I have served them in other contexts.