In the second-to-last column on the Nov. 6 ballot, voters will have the choice of two local lawyers to be town justice. While Christopher Kraft has secured endorsements from the Democratic, Working Families and Independence parties, counting more than his adversary, Republican William Myers. Myers has held the position as an interim for eight months since Daniel Lamb died in February.
“I screwed up the petition,” said Myers, who had also hoped to run under the Independence Party’s line. “I did not personally number the pages of the petition — I have to tell you, that was embarrassing. It was all humbling — we all make mistakes, and that was a big one.”
An assistant public defender, Myers said he is intimately aware that fellow citizens can sometimes make mistakes, and the responses to those mistakes need to be approached in a measured, logical and legal manner. Myers said his experience being a part of hundreds of civil and criminal trials makes him suited for the position of town justice. He said his education, experience and dedication to local Saugertiesians gives him “a wide range with which he can best serve the community.”
“It was a positive experience — it didn’t have to be, you know,” said Myers of his time on the bench so far. “Being in the court system for 27 years, I have an intimate knowledge of all the types of hearings and trials you experience. I felt pretty comfortable volunteering to do this job. I wanted to improve the current system, and that’s what I’m doing: I’m making it more efficient.”
Kraft, a Saugerties High graduate, has practiced privately in the county for the past 29 years, and has lived in the community since the late ’60s, owning and operating the law firm DallVechia & Kraft, P.C. Although Kraft was contacted many times over the past week seeking an interview, he only communicated with this publication via email. His qualities that are suited for the position, he wrote, are his honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, preparation and “outstanding reputation in the community.”
“I do not know my opponent and thus I cannot comment,” wrote Kraft when asked whether he feels better suited for the judicial role than his opponent. “I was screened by the Ulster County Judicial Screening Committee and received a ‘Highly Qualified’ rating for the position of town justice. I was told that no other candidate received [that] rating.”
Since Myers took up the gavel in March, he said he has established a few new practices that he says streamline the courtroom process.
“When a criminal case is filed, the District Attorney’s Office has the option to evaluate and recommend how to dispose of a case, and the litigant is often curious about how this will work out. Sometimes, plea negotiations can be very complicated,” said Myers. “I believe it’s rather important for a defendant to thoroughly understand exactly what the results of a plea negotiation are — I have been requiring that this process is memorialized for the defendant in a single page. When I got there, we weren’t memorializing things in writing.”
In a similar vein, Myers said he never “rules from the bench” — he always produces a written verdict.
“I’m a visual person, so I want to see things in writing,” he said. “When you’re rendering verdicts in trials, it takes some real consideration. I always want to review my notes and the law on every case I see. It shows the litigants that I respected the case enough to render a written, rather than oral, decision. The second reason … is so the loser, the person who didn’t win the case, can appeal my decision. I really want to know that I did this correctly — I think most judges don’t render written decisions [because] it takes more time to do that.”
The justice’s pay is $28,250 per year and the term is four years.
Polls will be open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6. Look up your polling place here.