September 3, 2013

Tompkins County Judge Hopefuls Make Their Case

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Just one week before the Democratic primary election for Tompkins County Judge, candidates — including two Cornell alumni and the defense attorney in the criminal trial of three former Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity pledges — spoke about their qualifications at a public forum at Tuesday.

The four candidates are Pamela Bleiwas ’87, Joe Cassidy, Kelly Damm and Seth Peacock J.D. ’01. The elected judge will serve for 10 years and act as a magistrate for county, surrogate and family courts, according to a press release from the Tompkins County Public Library.

Kay Sharp, president of the Tompkins County League of Women Voters — which is a sponsor of the event — moderated the forum, which took place at the Tompkins County Public Library.

Bleiwas, who has been practicing law for 22 years, said her experience — which she said is nine years longer than other candidates — makes her an ideal candidate for the job. She added that family court is her specialty.

Peacock, who moved to Tompkins County to attend Cornell Law School, said he wants to be a judge who helps “teenagers who [have] made a mistake” and those “struggling with addiction.”

Peacock also said he wants to focus on “innovation and humility” and discussed various ideas, including creating a youth court that would allow fellow peers of a young person accused of a crime to serve on the jury for his or her case. Peacock added that he wishes to remain humble if elected to the magistrate so that he can continue to fully understand arguments from both sides.

Damm said that she has been practicing law in the county for 14 years and said she is the only candidate to have been president of both of the Tompkins County Bar Association and the Finger Lakes Women’s Bar Association. She said she believes these ties to the community will help her if she is elected judge.

“It is important to have the community ties, community action and have community support when running for county court,” she said.

Damm was also the defense attorney for members of Cornell’s former Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in the 2011 hazing case involving the events leading up to the death of George Desdunes ’13.

Cassidy said that he has “significant experience in all of the fields” that a county judge would handle. He said that he has been endorsed by 46 local lawyers. When asked whether or not such endorsements were ethical, he said that they were not only appropriate, but also encouraged.

“Lawyers are in the best position in the community to evaluate judges,” Cassidy said.

Bleiwas, however, said that while such an endorsement is not unethical, she does not believe it is appropriate. She said that she did not want any attorneys to expect favors, which is why she did not solicit donations during her campaign.

At the forum, all of the candidates threw their support behind alternative solutions to incarceration. Cassidy said that such alternatives reduce revisitation — when people are sent back to jail after they are already released — and said that he has experience working with alternatives to incarceration.

All four candidates added that they hope Cornellians vote in the upcoming primary.

Peacock said that he wanted to expand the role of county judge by increasing the job’s involvement in the community. He said that inviting local students on field trips to the court could be a way to “expose people to what [he does] in the legal world.

Original Author: Tyler Alicea