The controversy over a Princetown justice’s dual role as justice and court clerk has ended with her losing her post as clerk, town officials said Wednesday.
Town Justice Michelle Van Woeart was formally removed from the clerk post at the Town Board meeting Tuesday night. The removal was done as a matter of law, Town Supervisor Michael Joyce said, after the town received a letter last month from the state Attorney General’s Office on the issue.
The letter, dated Aug. 24, pointed the town to an informal 1994 opinion that concluded the two positions were incompatible, that the job of clerk was subordinate to the job of justice.
Joyce said the removal was immediate on the recommendation of town attorney Michael Cuevas, and done without the need of a vote because the town was now aware Van Woeart couldn’t legally hold both positions.
It was a move Van Woeart should have made voluntarily when she became justice in 1997, Joyce said. “The Town Board had nothing to say about this,” Joyce said. “This was the New York state attorney general. They issued the opinion.”
He also said Wednesday that he recognizes the time Van Woeart put in for the town.
The issue had been slated for discussion at an executive session at the meeting, Joyce noted, as it was a personnel matter. Van Woeart, though, attended the meeting and requested it be discussed in the open.
Contacted Wednesday, Van Woeart declined to comment, instead referring comment to her attorney, John Seebold, who did not return a call for comment for this story.
The town already had a separate court clerk. That clerk will now assume the sole clerk duties. Joyce said the board hasn’t had a chance to discuss any possible changes in clerk’s work hours or pay due to the changes.
The Town Board had 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.
The attorney general’s letter came after Van Woeart was censured 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.
Van Woeart is paid $19,548 a year as a justice and was getting $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.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: