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Lowville officials won’t rush resolving vacant judge situation

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LOWVILLE — While Lowville town officials likely will discuss their now-vacant judgeship Thursday, they don’t plan to take action until they are assured they are proceeding properly.

“It will be on the agenda,” Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said. “But I want to make sure we’re not jumping ahead of anything” that Fifth Judicial District Administrative Judge James C. Tormey III or the town attorney would recommend against.

Lewis County Board of Elections officials noticed last week that 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.

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.

“We’re working closely with town officials and Albany trying to get this all figured out,” said Judge David S. Gideon, the Fifth Judicial District’s special counsel for town and village courts.

However, the matter’s uniqueness is making it difficult to do so quickly, he said.

“It’s an unprecedented situation,” Judge Gideon said.

The Town Council could appoint a replacement, including Mr. Youngs himself, as soon as 11 a.m. Thursday because Mr. Schell has moved up the board’s regular monthly meeting by one week to ensure a quorum.

It would be nice to resolve the matter as quickly as that, the supervisor said.

“But if we don’t, we’ll just take the time that needs to be taken to get it right,” he said.

One unresolved issue is whether the roughly $1,400 in salary paid by the town to Mr. Youngs for January and February should be returned and, if so, how the portion withheld for taxes should be handled, Mr. Schell said.

“That’s something we’re going to need some direction on,” he said, noting that question likely will be posed to officials at the state comptroller’s office.

Judge Tormey has issued an order restricting Mr. Youngs from access to court records or orders. All open cases are being transferred to the town’s other judge, Asa J. Holbrook, and a few jail inmates who had been arraigned by Mr. Youngs were rearraigned to ensure valid holding orders.

About 20 people have had traffic violation cases disposed of by Mr. Youngs so far this year, and the tentative plan is to send them letters giving them the option of having their cases retried.

Judge Gideon sent a draft of those letters to state judicial officials in Albany but said he will have to make modifications to it Monday before receiving a final determination on whether it will be sufficient.

If council members decide to appoint an untrained resident who is not a practicing attorney, that person will have to undergo judicial training set for April 8 to 13 before taking the bench, he said.

Mr. Youngs could not be reached by the Times on Thursday and Friday but told WWNY-TV 7 that he certainly is not a politician, hence he did not catch the mistake, but that he intends to seek the judgeship again.

Because 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.

The two bench seats then likely will come up for re-election at the same time in the future instead of being staggered terms because new town justice terms always are four years, according to county election commissioners.

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