A newly minted county court judge will soon preside in Ulster County Court, but not — for now at least — the one voters elected in November.
Bryan Rounds, who ran unopposed to replace County Court Judge Donald Williams, was sworn into office on Jan. 3 in an overflow ceremony at the County Courthouse in Uptown Kingston. But he will begin his judgeship miles away — in Monticello, under the terms of a judge-swap ordered by state Office of Court Administration.
In his absence, newly elected Sullivan County Court Judge Jim Farrell will hear cases in Ulster County.
The arrangement is intended to address a number of criminal cases in Sullivan County that Farrell cannot preside over because, prior to his election, he served as the county’s district attorney. According to OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen, 37 conflict cases have been assigned to Rounds. All of them, and potentially more, must be resolved, either by trial or plea agreement before Rounds can take the bench full-time at the Ulster County Courthouse.
Rounds is expected to perform some duties in Ulster County during this period. Chalfen said the arrangement was ordered by administrative judges who oversee courts in New York’s Third Judicial District. Chalfen added that such arrangements are common when a new judge takes the bench with a large number of conflict cases based on their previous practice.
Different approaches, to say the least
While Rounds and Farrell both come to the bench with “highly qualified” ratings from their respective county bar associations, the two judges come from opposite ends of the political and legal spectrum. Rounds is a Democrat who actively campaigned alongside fellow party members like County Comptroller March Gallagher. Rounds also spent the bulk of his legal career as a criminal defense attorney.
By contrast, Farrell is a Republican and career prosecutor. Farrell won election after an unusually nasty campaign in which he faced Democrat and Mamakating Town Court Judge Cynthia Dolan. During the contest, Farrell’s campaign sent out a mailer accusing Dolan — falsely, she said — of supporting drug legalization. The mailer also suggested that Dolan would bring “Socialism” to Sullivan County in the form of restorative justice — a theory of criminal justice embraced widely in Ulster of late that emphasizes offenders making amends to their victims and communities over incarceration and other traditional forms of punishment.