Town Board breaks a tie
Last November, the race for Plattekill town justice between incumbent John Sisti and challenger Robert Murphy came down to a single absentee ballot. The matter was resolved in the NYS Supreme Court with the presiding judge ruling that the absentee ballot must be opened and counted. That one vote went for Sisti and brought the tally to a tie of 1,050 votes for each candidate.
At last week’s Town Board meeting, Supervisor Joe Croce said the tie vote meant there was a “failure to elect” a justice in Plattekill last November. He said Town Law 64 article 4 subdivision 5 gives the Town Board the authority to fill a seat when it becomes vacant.
“Every attorney I’ve spoken to and the Board of Elections; they are all in agreement that it is the responsibility of this board to fill that vacancy,” he said. “I personally, and I don’t think this board, will shirk their responsibility; that’s also part of our duty.”
Croce pointed out that the governor is the only person who has the authority to call for a special election, something Croce said is “very rarely done.”
“I have not heard anything from the governor’s office,” he said. “We didn’t create the situation but we’re asked to deal with it.”
In a 3-2 vote the Plattekill Town Board appointed Murphy to the position of town justice. Croce, Councilmen Dean DePew and Larry Farrelly voted to appoint Murphy while Councilpersons Mike Putnam and Cindy Delgado were no votes. Since Murphy is not an attorney he cannot take the bench until he completes a required training course that will be offered in late March.
Before the vote to appoint a judge, resident Annette Laskowsky reminded the Town Board that when they themselves took office “your oath was to be for the benefit of the town and not political and I am so afraid of politics entering into your decision.” In direct reference to Sisti, who was not present at last week’s board meeting, Laskowsky said if the town were to appoint him there would be no added cost to the town for training and that he could take the bench immediately. Croce said town justices, however, must attend annual training sessions and that cases presently before the court are being handled by Justice Annamaria Maciocia.
In 2012 both Plattekill town justices indicated they would recuse themselves from cases brought before the court by a former town police officer, who was the daughter of the then sitting town supervisor. They did so in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in these cases.
At the 2013 Republican caucus, Judge Sisti, then a Republican, did not receive the necessary votes needed for nomination to run on his party’s line for judge. He then joined the Democratic Party and was nominated to run on their ticket.
In an interview last week, Sisti offered his best wishes to Murphy.
“It is an important job and I believe he will rise to the occasion,” he said.
After taking the oath of office from the Town Clerk Murphy commented; “Whether you supported me or not, I promise I will do the absolute best of my ability to represent the Town of Plattekill as a town judge. I will never, ever let you down.”
In a subsequent interview, Murphy said “I feel good; I’m glad it’s over.” He said he was pleased that both he and Sisti ran a “very clean, above-board campaign. We ran on the issues and that was all.” Murphy said he feels very well qualified to take the bench because of his 25 years of service in law enforcement.
As a lieutenant with the NYS Drug Enforcement Task Force, Murphy conducted major narcotics investigations in New York City. He was also a Zone Commander in charge of all uniform operations at the Liberty barracks in Sullivan County. He served three years of active duty and 19 years in the National Guard as a sergeant and training manager. Murphy is also a fully trained investigator in sex crimes, child abuse, arson and homicides. He has also participated in numerous personnel investigations and has sat on hearing boards to determine guilt or innocence and if needed, set an appropriate punishment. Murphy participated in New Paltz PBA contract negotiations, managed the department’s budget and updated their radio system, firearms, and bullet proof vests, purchased five new vehicles and added a new investigator to the detective division.
Murphy said this is the first time he will serve in elected office.
“I feel very good I did as well as I did; I’m sorry I couldn’t get one more vote and avoid all of this,” he said. “It’s been tough on a lot of people…but now we’re going to move on.”
Murphy said he ran for judge “because I think it’s the cap to a wonderful career in law enforcement,” adding that people who serve in his chosen profession often have the temperament needed to be a good judge.
Murphy said he is looking forward to seeing the justice system from a different perspective.
“Indeed it will be quite interesting and I am looking forward to it,” he said. “I wish I could start tomorrow but it gives me the time to go into the other local courts to sit and observe; watching and learning so when I do finish the school I’m ready to go.”
By MARK REYNOLDS