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Lowville town judge never sought re-election

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LOWVILLE — One of the two Lowville town judges failed to run for re-election as his term expired last year, which means he has not officially served in that position for the past couple of months.

“We’re a reluctant guinea pig in this,” said Lowville Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell, noting the situation apparently is unique in state annals.

While checking Wednesday on offices to be filled for the 2013 elections, Lewis County Board of Elections officials noticed Judge John J. Youngs, who was appointed to the post in January 2004 and ran unopposed in the November 2004 and 2008 elections, should have run for a new four-year term in November.

Mr. Schell said he spent much of Thursday in consultation with the town’s attorney, Raymond A. Meier, and Fifth Judicial District officials on how to properly handle any court cases overseen by Mr. Youngs since January and move forward with the position.

“We’ll handle it,” Mr. Schell said. “It’s resolved, and ultimately the people of the town will elect a judge. It certainly wasn’t intentional on anyone’s part.”

Fifth Judicial District Administrative Judge James C. Tormey III has issued an order restricting the now-former Judge Youngs from access to court records or orders, at least for the time being, he said.

All open cases are being transferred to the town’s other judge, Asa J. Holbrook. A few jail inmates who had been arraigned by Mr. Youngs were rearraigned to ensure valid holding orders, and roughly 20 people who have had cases disposed of by him so far this year will receive letters giving them the option of having their cases retried, the supervisor said.

“I don’t know of any criminal cases that were handled from start to finish” since the start of the year, he said.

Mr. Youngs could not be reached Thursday.

Moving forward, the Town Council may appoint someone, presumably Mr. Youngs, to fill the now-vacant position through the year’s end.

“It’s up to the board to take action to fill that spot until the next general election,” said Anne M. Nortz, Lewis County’s Republican election commissioner.

County election officials typically rely on the towns to provide an accurate list of offices that need to be filled, although they try to double-check whenever possible, she said.

Unfortunately, the error was not caught by town or county officials or the candidate until this point, Mrs. Nortz said.

Since Judge Holbrook’s term expires at the end of this year, both judicial spots probably will be on the November ballot, with the top two vote-getters earning the seats, she said.

Mr. Schell said he hopes one of those elected would only fill Mr. Youngs’s unexpired term so the seats don’t come up together every four years in perpetuity.

The Town Council’s next regular meeting is slated for March 21.

However, some board members expect to be out of town then, so the session may be moved up to Thursday, allowing the board to take any needed actions within the week, Mr. Schell said.

“We’re going to certainly take direction from Judge Tormey’s office and our town attorney,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything rash.”

After being notified of the problem, Mr. Schell said, his first thought was a similar situation must have happened elsewhere in the state at some point, providing a road map for how to move forward. However, he said, judicial district officials indicated they were unable to find any such instances.

Mr. Youngs, a retired state trooper and Lowville police chief, was first appointed to the judgeship to replace R. Craig Van Buren, who died in a car-pedestrian accident in November 2003.

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