HUDSON—Come January 2024, Columbia County Court will have two new judges on the bench.
Both Columbia County Judge Richard M. Koweek and Judge Jonathan D. Nichols will be stepping down at the end of this year. Judge Nichols’ 10-year-term expires at the end of 2023 and Judge Koweek’s 10-year-term expires at the end of 2031, leaving eight years remaining in his unexpired term, according to the Columbia County Board of Elections website (columbiacountyny.com/elections/elected-officials/countyoffices)
The General Election will be held Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
Within the past week or so, two local attorneys, Robert “Bob” Gibson and Michael “Mike” C. Howard have announced their candidacy for one of the open judge seats. To get on the ballot, both men must first receive a political party’s nomination.
Mr. Gibson, 55, of Kinderhook is a Republican, who has been a practicing attorney since 2000. He is currently the Columbia County Commissioner of Social Services.
The Columbia Paper asked each man by email what he hopes to accomplish as judge or how he will distinguish himself?
Mr. Gibson responded: “Keeping the children and families of Columbia County safe has been my top priority for many years. The role of Commissioner of Social Services has given me greater insight into the struggles that many of our less fortunate citizens face, including those suffering with mental illness. Mental illness and addiction have placed a heavy burden on our community, law enforcement and Emergency Management System and this has directly affected the criminal justice system.
“The most important need in the criminal justice system is an assurance that every person gets a fair shake—no bias, no politics, no special treatment. If elected as county judge, my main goal will be ensuring that every individual who comes into the courtroom is treated with respect and an open mind, and all parties are heard with impartiality and fairness.”
Mr. Howard, 57, of Claverack is a registered Democrat and has practiced law in Columbia County since 1992. He is currently the first assistant public defender and operates his private law office at 118 Green Street in Hudson.
Mr. Howard responded to the newspaper’s question this way: “I want to expand the treatment court that focuses on individuals with substance and alcohol abuse. I believe that we need an active veterans court to address many of the issues that affect our military after they leave active service. I am encouraged that social scientists and medical providers have recognized that youth court can be a valuable societal tool to assist our young people who are encountering difficulties. Family court will likely benefit from early intervention with social workers and other mental health providers.
“My record of representing residents of our community for over 30 years has enabled me to see that not everything is so easily categorized as right or wrong and that there is a lot of gray. I will treat all litigants and practitioners with dignity and respect. I will draw upon my life’s work to best serve the people that appear before me.”
According to a press release which provided additional information about Mr. Gibson, he has served as commissioner of Social Services since 2017. He oversees a $38 million budget and 140 employees. The agency administers programs to benefit residents and keep children and families safe. From 2014 to 2017, Mr. Gibson “was counsel to the Commissioner of Social Services. In these roles at DSS [Department of Social Services], he has helped countless local children, families and individuals in dire circumstances, and has overseen the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases.”
Earlier in his career, he was a prosecutor with the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office, where he handled criminal matters, including grand jury presentments, domestic violence and sex abuse cases, and various misdemeanor prosecutions in town and village courts throughout the county. He also served as the District Attorney’s representative on the Columbia County Treatment Court, an alternative to traditional prosecution for members of the community suffering with alcohol and/or substance abuse and addiction.
A graduate of Columbia-Greene Community College, the University at Albany and Albany Law School, Mr. Gibson has also worked in private legal practice on civil litigation, criminal law and family law. For over a decade he represented children and families while also serving as a defense attorney in courts throughout the Capital Region.
Mr. Gibson is the brother of former Congressman Chris Gibson. In 2010, he took a leave of absence to help run his brother’s initial campaign.
Mr. Gibson has prioritized giving back to the community, says the press release. He presently serves as a director on several local boards, including the Boards of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society, the Columbia-Greene Chapter of the Salvation Army, the Health Care Consortium of Columbia and Greene Counties, and the Columbia County Community Services Board. He also serves on the advisory Boards for HudsonUp, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to lifting individuals and families out of poverty, and Everhome, a pilot program that seeks to keep seniors in their homes as they age.
“Running for county judge is a logical next step to further” his priority of keeping the children and families of Columbia County safe, Mr. Gibson said in the release.
According to a press release from Mr. Howard, announcing his candidacy, “Recent events opened two positions of county court judge in Columbia County. It is my belief that my background, temperament, and understanding of our community uniquely qualifies me to become a Columbia County court judge. I am looking forward to serving as a Columbia County court judge, and believe that I will be able to use my experience to serve all of the litigants that appear before me.”
Mr. Howard has twice served as the president of the Hudson Rotary Club, has been on the board of the Columbia Golf and County Club, the Columbia County Association in the City of New York, Columbia County United Way, the Hudson Area Library Association, the Salvation Army, Hudson Boys and Girls Club, and the Register Star Community Advisory Board.
He is a graduate of Hudson High School, Davidson College, and Brooklyn Law School, where he was a member of the International Law Journal. In 2012, he won the New York State Defenders Association Wilfred R. O’Connor Award, given annually to the New York State defense attorney that exemplifies the client-centered sense of justice, persistence and compassion that characterized Wilfred R. O’Connor’s life.
To contact Diane Valden email