With a tersely-worded letter sent to New Paltz Town Council members, Jonathan Katz ended his 24-year run as town justice, effective August 8. Interviews to fill the position until a permanent replacement is elected will be held at the Town Council meeting on August 1.
The body of Katz’s letter, dated July 16, was just one sentence: “I am resigning my position as New Paltz Town Justice effective August 8, 2019.” The news wasn’t shared at the July 18 Town Council meeting, but the following day a call for applicants was posted to the town’s web site. According to deputy supervisor Dan Torres, town officials were awaiting a legal opinion on how to proceed with the replacement.
When there is a resignation, in most cases, an appointment is made until an election is held to fill the remainder of the term. For justices, according to Torres, the election is instead for a full term starting with the new year. Due to the timing of this resignation, the election will not take place until November of 2020, leaving the appointee in place for more than a year. The cycle of electing a justice every other year is now over in New Paltz: one will remain an off-year town election race while the other will now occur during presidential election years instead.
Katz’s fellow justice on the New Paltz bench, James Bacon, acknowledged that the decision hadn’t come as a surprise to him. “Everybody at the justice court is very sorry to see Jon go,” he said. “You can talk to the attorneys in town . . . his reputation as a judge is well known, and he is very highly regarded. I think he served the town well, in a conscientious manner, and I’ll miss him as a colleague.”
Andrew Kossover is one of the attorneys in town with a long history of practicing before Katz’s bench. “I believe it is safe to state, that on behalf of myself and my colleagues who have appeared before Judge Katz, that his continuous hard work, the professional manner in which he carried out his responsibilities, the patience and respect he showed all attorneys and litigants who came before him, and, of course, his dry wit, made appearances in his courtroom as professionally pleasurable as one could hope for in the trying environment of a court of law. He is well respected for endeavoring to render fair and just results. He will be sorely missed,” he said in a statement.
When asked for comment, Katz provided a statement that read, “I have had the honor of serving as town justice for 24 years. I have done my best to treat people fairly and with the dignity they deserve. It’s time to let a younger person have the chance to experience the unmitigated joy of being a judge in such a wonderful town. My private law practice is growing and I want to concentrate on that. I am also grateful for the support that I have had from the community since my first election in 1995.”
Bacon advised that anyone interested in the position to “be ready for a commitment, and know your rules of evidence. I think being a lawyer is a help to being a justice.” There is no requirement in New York that town justices be attorneys, based on the tradition that residents should have the opportunity to elect anyone they feel is fair-minded to the position. According to a 2018 New York Law Journal article, 1,110 of the state’s 1,850 town and village justices are not lawyers. Residency in the town is a requirement, however.
Anyone interested in being interviewed should send a resume and letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. on July 26. Council members will review these in executive session at a special meeting on July 29 to select candidates to interview. Those conversations will take place during the regular Aug. 1 board meeting.