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Lowville Town Council may not appoint judge to fill vacancy

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LOWVILLE — The Town Council won’t be allowed to appoint someone to fill its mistakenly vacant town judge post, so the town will likely stick with a single judge through the end of the year.

“It seems a moot point to put the town or county through a special election when the results will be the same as an election in November,” said Supervisor Randall A. Schell.

An informal opinion issued Monday by the state attorney general’s office showed one of the town’s two judge posts, which was incorrectly left off last fall’s ballot, should be filled only through a special election called by the governor. And, even if such an election were to be held, the new justice’s four-year term would not begin until Jan. 1, the same as one selected through the regular election cycle.

“Although we are advised that the failure to include the position on the ballot in this case was inadvertent, such mistakes might become more frequent and even deliberate if the result were to give the town board the power to fill the vacancy by appointment instead of election,” wrote Kathryn Sheingold, assistant solicitor general in charge of opinions at the state office.

While finding “no direct precedent” for this case, Ms. Sheingold suggested an appointment could be made if the vacancy occurred because of a death or resignation, but not for a failure to elect.

“We’ll do what they recommend,” Mr. Schell said.

The attorney general’s letter affirmed the stance the Lewis County Board of Elections has taken, he said.

The town’s attorney, Raymond A. Meier, also met with an attorney at the state Board of Elections last week and received the same opinion, Mr. Schell said.

County election officials in March noticed Republican Judge John J. Youngs, who was appointed to the post in January 2004 and ran unopposed in the November elections of 2004 and 2008, should have run for another four-year term in November. Town officials had left the post off their “offices to be filled” list submitted to county election officials last year, and the omission was not noticed then.

All open cases have been transferred to the town’s other judge, Republican Asa J. Holbrook.

Because Judge Holbrook’s term expires at the end of this year, both four-year judicial spots will be on the November ballot, with the top two vote-getters to earn four-year seats.

Five people have thus far picked up nominating petitions, according to county election officials.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they all will gather a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters and return them by the July 11 deadline.

Mr. Schell had hoped the two judicial terms could remain staggered, but that no longer appears possible.

One question that remains open is whether the roughly $1,400 in salary the town paid to Mr. Youngs for January and February should be returned and, if so, how that should be handled logistically, the supervisor said.

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