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Updated: Public defender highlights importance of Albany City Court election

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Updated: Public defender highlights importance of Albany City Court election

This year, seven Democratic candidates are competing for three judgeship spots in Albany City Court. The uniformity of party means the Sept. 12 primary holds particular, if not decisive, importance. And while it is perhaps always prudent to scrutinize candidates’ records, the judges’ prospective 10-year terms might make this practice seem all the more essential.

“That court is so important to a community,” former City Court judge and current Albany County Public Defender Stephen Herrick said at an event hosted by the nonprofit Center for Law and Justice at the Arbor Hill/West Hill Branch of the Albany Public Library last week. “The judge…sets the tone for what happens in the courtroom. So if you have a bad cop or a bad prosecutor or a bad public defender, the judge is there to give the impression—and it should be a sincere impression—that justice is being done and the public is being served.”

Herrick was careful not to endorse or speak in favor of any particular candidate. But he did offer up at least four general qualities of a good judge: one, knowledge of the law; two, work ethic (it’s not a 35-hour-a-week gig, Herrick explained, as it might involve working weekends and signing police warrants in the middle of the night); three, decisiveness; and four, an immunity to “black robe disease.”

That last term is not an actual medical condition, but rather a way of describing judges who become a bit too enamored with their own power. It’s likely difficult for voters to screen for the condition—two of the three incumbents up for election were appointed just last year by Mayor Kathy Sheehan—but it again underscores the considerably high stakes.

Here are the seven candidates:

  1. Judge Helena Heath, Albany City Court Judge since 2005.
  2. Judge John Reilly, Albany City Court Judge since 2016.
  3. Judge Holly Trexler, Albany City Court Judge since 2016.
  4. James Long, defense and elections attorney.
  5. LaVonda Collins, Albany County Assistant Public Defender.
  6. Sherri Brooks, Albany County Alternate Public Defender.
  7. Michael Barone, Center Station “B” Shift Operations Lieutenant, Albany Police Department.

The Times Union reported last month that Heath ($45,638), Trexler ($40,995), and Long ($39,998) led the field in fundraising.

It appears the competition may be heating up. Early Monday morning, The Alt received an email from candidate LaVonda Collins with the subject line, “What politician(s) fear LaVonda S. Collins will be elected as City Court Judge so bad that they have removed approximately 50 signs from public view?”

Collins included an image of a police report, dated July 22, documenting the alleged theft of nearly two dozen campaign signs from various locations. “Since this report several more signs have been removed,” she wrote in the email.

Reached Monday, police department spokesman Steve Smith told The Alt that the case has been assigned to a detective and is ongoing.

Collins later told The Alt that her signs may have been removed because they were placed in public rights-of-way. Yesterday, she learned that “a lot” of her signs are now in the possession of the city’s department of general services, which “doesn’t touch anything unless there is a complaint.” She sent The Alt more than a dozen photographs of other candidates’ signs, at least some of which appeared to be in public rights-of-way, on the grass between the sidewalk and curb. (The department of general services did not return a request for comment.)

“Either the signs are permissible and all signs should be seen or signs are not permissible and all signs should be removed,” Collins said in an email.

Update 12:45 P.M. Daniel W. DiLillo, deputy commissioner of the city’s department of general services, responded to The Alt‘s inquiry:

Once DGS receives a complaint whether by phone, see-click-fix, e-mail, or seen by the DGS employees, we send an employee to verify the signs are on city property, example (City road Islands, off ramps, city parks, City owed lots or property, city right-of-way in front of vacant lots, etc.). If the signs are found to be in violation they are removed. Once the signs are removed they are brought to the DGS facility where they can be picked up by the candidate or a representative. 

  1. A total of 37 signs of Ms. Collins signs where removed, we currently have 6 at the DGS facility the rest were picked up by the candidate.

  2. Ms. Collins signs were removed because they were on city property.

  3. Once we get notified we send an employee to verify the sign or signs are on city property, if they are they are removed if not they are left in that location.

  4. There have been approximately 100 signs removed so far belonging to all candidates. Again the typical reason for removal is that they are on city property.

Here is one photo DiLillo passed along:

20170809_101838_1502288445529

A second iteration of the educational event, titled “The People’s Court: Understanding City Court & Our Community,” will be held tonight at 6 P.M. at Capital South Campus Center, 20 Warren St. in Albany. It will include a presentation on the structure of city court, as well as a separate presentation on voting rights. There is no cost to attend.

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