Although he has already served as a town justice since August of 2019, New Paltz native Rhett Weires will be running for his first term as an elected judge this November on the Democratic ticket. “When Judge [Jonathan] Katz retired, the town board appointed me to fill his vacancy,” Weires explained. A local attorney and a father of four, Weires is running unopposed for a four-year term as one of two New Paltz town justices, with the other being veteran judge James Bacon.
What made him want to serve on the local bench? “Growing up in New Paltz and seeing first-hand the kind of impacts that our town justices can have on our community seemed like the perfect place for me to give back to the community and to do the very best I can to reflect the values of that New Paltz has when it comes to justice\,” he said.
He saw the greatest challenges facing the court including “implementing the criminal justice reforms, including bail reform and discovery reform, that are very substantive and all came into effect on January 1, 2020. We’re trying to make sure that we apply the rules properly. And then Covid-19 hit, which posed another series of challenges, the most important of which is to ensure that every person has access to justice.”
Weires and other local justices, took courses to learn how to do arraignments remotely for the most emergent situations, where someone was being charged with something serious enough to warrant them being sent to the county jail or having bail set. “When it came to matters of domestic violence and other serious crimes,” he said, “we were able to act swiftly, despite the restraints posed by Covid-19 restrictions.”
Now, Weires explained, the courts are back in action, following the Covid-19 protocols outlined by the state and the Office of Criminal Justice, and have returned to the courthouse in New Paltz on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights. To compensate for their reduced capacity, they’ve been scheduling cases require a court appearance in a staggered system, texting the defendants when their case is being heard. “It used to be this cattle call at 5 p.m., and whoever showed up first got called. But now we’re doing it in a more efficient way,” he said.
Weires said that he’s honored to be on the ballot, to be part of what he believes will be an election with a high election turnout, and to be an arbiter of justice in the place he calls home.