Schenectady County

Opinion: Princetown judge shouldn’t also be clerk

Another office has weighed in on whether longtime Princetown Town Justice Michelle Van Woeart can ho

Another office has weighed in on whether longtime Princetown Town Justice Michelle Van Woeart can hold the dual positions of justice and court clerk; this one says she shouldn’t.

The Town Board sought clarification from the state Attorney General’s Office concerning an earlier opinion from the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics that concluded Van Woeart could hold both positions.

In a brief letter dated Aug. 24, the Attorney General’s Office pointed the town to an informal 1994 opinion that concluded the clerk’s post was subordinate to the justice, “rendering the two positions incompatible.” If there are no clerks, the justice can perform clerical duties, the opinion reads, and a town board can abolish the clerk’s position.

“Any increase in salary of the justice during his term in office in recognition of these extra duties that is authorized by local law would be subject to referendum on petition … ” the 1994 opinion reads.

Town Supervisor Matt Joyce has said members of the board remain concerned with Van Woeart holding both jobs. He said Wednesday he was unsure how the letter might affect that discussion.

The letter comes after Van Woeart was censured last week by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which found she failed to properly handle tickets issued to her and her sons for alleged animal control violations involving their dogs. The finding is a step above the lowest level determination — admonition — but a step below the highest level — removal.

Joyce has said the censure highlights the board’s concerns.

In an email response Wednesday, Van Woeart noted the Attorney General’s Office’s informal opinion is just that, and is from 1994. She then noted the judicial ethics committee’s opinion was targeted specifically to Princetown.

“I have a formal opinion from the [Advisory Committee] on Judicial Ethics that says I can hold the position of town justice and a position of performing clerical and administrative duties relative to the court and can be compensated for them,” she wrote.

Van Woeart is paid $19,548 a year as a justice and $26,667 annually as court clerk, according to the town’s 2011 budget. An assistant court clerk earns $25,885.

Princetown’s court is among the busier in Schenectady County because the town includes stretches of the state Thruway and Interstate 88, where many traffic tickets are issued.

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