Seeking a third full term as one of two Saugerties town justices, Claudia Andreassen is being challenged on the November 3 ballot by Stan O’Dell, who is seeking his first elective office. Both candidates are registered Democrats. Their names will appear on five different lines.
Having easily won her party’s primary, Andreassen is the endorsed Democrat, and is also running on the Green Party line. O’Dell will appear on the Independence Party and Working Family Party lines, as well as the SAM party line, based on a petition. A write-in candidate, Jay Carr, will appear on the Libertarian line.
Both Andreassen and O’Dell have legal backgrounds, though neither is a lawyer. In his 30-plus years with the New York State Police, O’Dell has both attended and taught courses in various aspects of the law both within New York and in other states. Andreassen, who formerly worked for the Ulster County Probation Department, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in an unrelated subject, and has had training in various aspects of the law, including ethics, bail, addiction, discovery and vehicle and traffic law and courses, at Ulster County Community College in criminology, abnormal psychology and sociology.
O’Dell has stressed community involvement, citing membership in the Saugerties Fire Department’s Lynch Hose Company, Sons of the American Legion, Elks, and the town Waterfront Advisory Committee, of which he serves as chairman.,
Andreassen and O’Dell agreed that compassion is an important quality in a judge. Both say alternatives to jail can offer better outcomes than imprisonment. O’Dell recalled a young neighbor who was arrested, with some friends, for committing a minor crime. He was sentenced to community service, cleaning up at his town’s dump, a sentence O’Dell said was very suitable because the youth hated mess and dirt. While Andreassen said that she favors community service as an alternative to jail, she notes that the criminal code offers a limited selection of offenses – not including misdemeanors – for which community service is an allowable punishment.
One form of alternative sentencing could involve reeducation, Andreassen said. “When I was a probation officer I ran a program, ‘Thinking for a Change.’ It was with people who were on their way to serious prison time. They had homework to do. We met for twelve weeks in a room in the town hall next to where the library temporarily operated while they were renovating the library building. The rumor was that I was meeting with a group of pedophiles, so everybody in the library was totally up in arms, but they were there for various crimes.”
In civil cases, Andreassen said she requires that the parties meet with a mediator before they appear in her court. In many cases, the issues are settled in mediation and the matter does not require court appearances. Working issues out with a mediator also generally leaves all parties feeling better about the resolution because it was not forced on them, she said.
Rnnning for office can be a grueling experience. Andreassen finds the experience akin to extreme torture; “I just wanted to be the judge; I didn’t know it had anything to do with being political,” she said. “Some candidates may find running exhilarating, but that’s not me.”
Judges are not supposed to campaign on political issues, O’Dell said. During his police career, he was constrained from taking strong political stands. When he first considered running for office, he found that the people he respected and sought out for advice were all Democrats, so it was logical to join that party.
Originally from Connecticut, Andreassen was about three years old when her family moved to Missouri, after President Harry Truman handed his mother contact information for an official at Missouri State University. She said she decided to join the Democratic Party because that was Truman’s party.
O’Dell said the news media filled with stories of police brutality sicken him. He is sure most officers feel the same. In more than 30 years of service in cities across the country, he said, he had never seen such incidents as the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The New York State Police rules and regulations “originating from an initial directive from our first superintendent, George Fletcher Chandler, from Kingston, NY, was basically to help people. That’s what we do. We’re there to help, we’re not there just to arrest people. We’re not there to hurt people.”
Knowing your community and being open to suggestions, not only from a pre-sentencing report, is important. “The prosecutor asking for one thing the defense attorney asking for another, you have a presentencing report that is going to tell you about a person’s past history, what they’re about,” he explained, “and I think you need to have a judge that cares enough about the community and the people to do the right thing so it benefits everybody – including the defendant.”
Andreassen said she has seen a greater tendency to violence in police today than in earlier days. She described a cartoon in Mad Magazine a few years ago, a parody of a Norman Rockwell painting called “The Runaway” showing a police officer sitting next to a young man in a soda fountain. The kid’s duffel bag and fishing pole tell the viewer he was running away from home, amd the officer, in a plain shirt, seems to be having a friendly conversation. The Mad Magazine version shows the officer in a full-face helmet with a semiautomatic rifle strapped across his back. The kid is recoiling in terror. In too many cases, that has been how the police appear to minorities in this era, she said.
O’Dell was born and raised in Dutchess County. After Red Hook High School, he worked in the restaurant business, but “always wanted to be a state trooper.” In October 1984 he joined the force. “I’ve taken a lot of courses, training,” he said. “I started a boat patrol, taught diving, and trained recruits at the police academy.”
In her work with the Probation Department, Andreassen had contact with a wide variety of felons, including murderers. And, while it can be unsettling to be alone with a murderer during a probationary conference [in the new county jail, she’s a good distance from the nearest guards], most defendants are not a danger. “Initially, years ago the reason I decided I wanted to be a judge, was because I knew how defendants were treated. Serious felons, someone doesn’t just decide, ‘When I grow up I want to be an ax murderer.’”
The courts are only gradually coming back to the way they operated before the coronavirus struck. They were closed for months, and are now reopening on a limited basis. “Where at one time the court handled 80 or 100 cases on a civil and traffic night, now they are limited to five at a time,” Andreassen said.