Ancram justice trades gavel for campaign politics

ANCRAM—Bob Wilcox doesn’t like what’s going on in Washington, so he’s going to work to change it.

For the past 10 years, Mr. Wilcox, 70, has served as an Ancram Town Justice, but he resigned that post February 9, so he can become involved in political and controversial issues, something a sitting judge is prohibited from doing.

He’s throwing in his lot with the Gareth Rhodes campaign.

A Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 19th Congressional District, Mr. Rhodes, a former press aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, hopes to win his party’s nomination to challenge Rep. John Faso in the 2018 election.

Former Ancram Town Justice Bob Wilcox

In his resignation letter to the Ancram Town Board, Mr. Wilcox wrote that he is resigning “with a great deal of reluctance.” He said his years as Town Justice “have been personally satisfying and publicly useful to the community. However, there are some activities that I wish to pursue that are statutorily incompatible with my position as Town Justice and thus force this resignation.”

Mr. Wilcox told The Columbia Paper by phone that prior to running for Town Justice he was politically involved on the town Democratic Committee. “I am a Democrat first,” he said.

At the end of 2017, Mr. Wilcox said he asked himself what he wanted to be able to say he accomplished at the end of 2018. “By the end of the year if he [Mr. Rhodes] gets elected I will feel really great for having worked hard, and if he loses I will still feel I’ve done my part. I can’t stand on the sidelines, I want to get in the game,” he said.

Mr. Wilcox was the former owner and manager of the seventh largest direct response ad agency in the country. He was also first lieutenant in the US Army, Airborne Special Forces, who served from 1970 to 1974.

He believes he can help the candidate with concerns about veterans’ issues by researching policies, collecting good information and arriving at ideas that make sense.

Veterans represent about 7.5% of the voting public in the 19th District, said Mr. Wilcox, noting that one issue is how to deliver services to vets, particularly healthcare, and how to get new young vets connected.

Mr. Wilcox said he plans to meet with the nine Veterans Administration Offices across the District to hear what they have to say about what their needs are, what works and what Congress should be doing.

Mr. Wilcox said his decision to change direction at this point in his life is “less noble” than it would be if he was 30, 40 or even 50 and had family obligations with children still at home.

Mr. Wilcox and his wife, Leah, have two grown sons and two grandchildren.

It is a decision of conscience. In the next year, this will bring me the most satisfaction.”

At the February 15 Ancram Town Board meeting, the board considered what to do about Justice Wilcox’s resignation and how to fill the remaining two years of his term.

The options outlined include leaving the seat open and letting the one remaining judge, Justice George Wittlinger, handle all the cases until the next election. Or, the board could ask the state Office of Court Administration to assign a temporary judge or appoint someone to fill the position until the next election. Another option would be for the town to share a justice with another town, which would require a permissive referendum, according to Mr. Wilcox.

Fourteen years ago, the town court hit its peak with 500 cases/year, but has been holding steady at about 400 cases annually for the past several years. A sharp increase has occurred in the work of the court clerk, whose job has gotten bigger as the judge’s job has diminished, Mr. Wilcox said.

Court Clerk Ruth Wittlinger, who serves as court clerk for her husband, told the board, “George can handle it.”

District Attorney Night, when a county assistant district attorney is present, is a busy night, but each proceeding happens one at a time because of the recording device, she said, noting, “No big deal.”

The clerical piece is the big piece,” said Mr. Wilcox, “one clerk works with the judge, while the other is the cashier.”

At the end of the discussion, Town Supervisor Art Bassin said it did not sound like there was any urgency to fill the vacated position and the town could wait to elect a new judge this November.

Mrs. Wittlinger said she and her husband have been working as judge/clerk team for the past 19 years. “We think as one person,” she said adding that Colleen Lutz, the other court clerk, has been on the job for 10 years and “fits the niche.”

Mr. Bassin said the board should leave things as they are and look to “Ruth to give us guidance if they need assistance.”

The board’s next meeting is March 15 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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