EDITORIAL: Koweek for judge

Koweek for county judge

ONE OF THE TWO county judgeships is up for election this fall, with two candidates seeking the seat: current District Attorney Beth Cozzolino and Hudson City Court Judge Richard Koweek.

County Court judges hear criminal cases, and preside over Family and Surrogate courts too. They may also fill in at times in state Supreme Court, where many civil cases are tried, so they have to possess a broad knowledge of the law.

Before going further, here’s a disclosure: a few years ago our home was burglarized. Police quickly caught the person responsible and Ms. Cozzolino’s staff handled the case. I was impressed with the outreach from her office and with the result. The DA had services for crime victims and policies that seemed clear and consistent. In my position as a newspaper editor I already knew her as a likeable and capable public servant. I believe from all this that she has the temperament and experience to serve as a judge.

Richard Koweek, born and raised in Hudson, has a record of civic involvement that reads like a textbook on what’s best about Columbia County, everything from volunteer firefighter to coach for kids’ sports teams. He’s practiced many types of law — civil and criminal — and while he has less experience with felony cases than Ms. Cozzolino, just reading our Police Blotter reports each week reminds me that he sees a far greater variety of misdeeds and bad behavior in his courtroom than most other judges in this county.

It’s not surprising, then, that a panel of lawyers from the state Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for this region found Judge Koweek “Qualified” to serve as County Court judge. Judge Koweek volunteered to be interviewed by the commission, which is set up by the state court system.

What is surprising is that Ms. Cozzolino, who has been DA for 16 years, declined to say whether she went through a similar process to have her peers determine whether she is qualified. She says that the people of the county will determine her qualifications. That’s true, but those of us who are not lawyers are left to wonder how we should make that evaluation.

I’m left with my recollections of news stories over the last decade or so, a period during which I can easily recall at least three examples of cases in which the DA’s office was slow to act, leaving me questioning the judgment involved. The first case was when deputies arrested a town clerk at the request of a vindictive town supervisor, then a state trooper hauled a teenager into court for failing to return a cheerleader uniform and, most recently, a family of farmers was taken away in handcuffs for allegedly mistreating their cows.

Though charges were eventually dismissed in all these cases, they left the impression of a justice system in which, at the very least, no one effectively communicated standards or the need to exercise common sense.

It may be unfair to hold Ms. Cozzolino responsible for the mistakes of her subordinates or to critique her management style. But in the absence of an evaluation from her peers, the record is the only thing I have to go on. And the record leaves unsettling questions about her judgment, which is no small matter when choosing a judge.

Richard Koweek has demonstrated his ability to preside as a judge in a challenging courtroom. He knows the community. He has the approval of legal experts who understand what judges must know. He should be elected the next county judge.

 

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