Fulton County

Legal shuffle in Fulton County may result in high-profile races

Longtime Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey’s decision to retire at the end of this year could spark

Longtime Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey’s decision to retire at the end of this year could spark a reshuffling at the top of some of the most important departments in the county.

Roughly two years ago, Lorey and former Fulton County Court Judge Richard Giardino, both Republicans and close friends, discussed their political futures. Giardino felt he could do more to serve the community as sheriff than as a judge and he announced his decision to retire from his seat in October, as did Lorey.

“Tom told me he was thinking about stepping down, and we both thought it would be a good time for me to run for that position,” said Giardino. “He told me, ‘You should consider running for it,’ so I thought about and said ‘You could make more of an impact in the community as a sheriff than as a judge.’ ”

Giardino, who presided over roughly 200 criminal trials in Fulton and Schenectady counties, explained that it is illegal to be a sitting judge and run for a non-judicial post, meaning he had to step down as county judge before announcing plans to run for sheriff.

“As a judge, you are limited to what the district attorney brings before you and you are limited by statute about what you can do,” he said. “As a sheriff, you can develop programs and training.”

Though well-respected in his role as judge — and before that as the county’s district attorney, Giardino has little experience in law enforcement. His only experience came while he was in college, working summers and weekends for the Mayfield Police Department.

Last week, Darren Smith, a state Unified Court System Officer, announced he intends to run for the Republican line in the sheriff’s race. Multiple attempts to reach Smith were unsuccessful.

Next on the bench

Eyeing a run for county judge, Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira, also a Republican, has said she plans to fill Giardino’s vacated seat. Sira can’t formally announce her candidacy until Monday and can’t discuss legislation because of restrictions imposed by her current position.

In an email Thursday Sira said: “As a potential judicial candidate, I am excited about bringing my enthusiasm, commitment to the community and vast, 22 years of criminal jury trial and appellate experience to the bench.”

Republican Michael Smrtic, a Gloversville attorney, said earlier this week he also plans to run for county judge.

If Sira fills the seat on the bench, there would be a vacancy for district attorney. Gov. Andrew Cuomo could fill the position through appointment, or it would remain an open position until the next general election.

So what does so many familiar names on this fall’s ballot mean for Fulton County, an area with a reputation for being deeply conservative and holding strong views about the state’s gun control laws? In a county where members of the Board of Supervisors are only part-time and there isn’t a full-time elected official running the county, the sheriff and district attorney are often in the public eye.

Lorey has denounced on local and national talk shows the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, a gun control law that he says was forced through the state Legislature through a message of necessity in wake of the deadly 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. As a form of protest, Lorey has told county residents to not abide by the law.

Multiple attempts to reach Lorey were unsuccessful, but while speaking to a pro-Second Amendment rights group last month, Lorey told county residents to opt out of a pilot pistol permit renewal program slated to start sometime this year.

“They’re going to send out 500 invitations in my county, and that’s all they are, is invitations,” he said. “The invitation is going to ask you if you want to renew early. I’m asking everybody who gets those invitations to throw them in the garbage, because that’s where they belong.”

Different approach

Giardino said Tuesday he has some qualms about the SAFE Act and believes it is unconstitutional, but he isn’t a proponent of telling residents to break the law.

“As a district attorney and judge, I would at times have to enforce laws I didn’t personally agree with. As sheriff, I would do the same,” he said, noting more than 13,000 pistol permits have been issued to county residents. “Enforcement of failing to register pistols would be a function of the state police and county licensing officer, which is the county judge in our county. I believe the Second Amendment guarantees law-abiding citizens the right to carry handguns, concealed or unrestricted. As sheriff, I would not tell people to disregard any law, whether I personally agree with it or not.”

Giardino added that state police collect pistol permits, not the county sheriff’s department, “so it is not our job to be a part of the pistol permit renewal process.”

Ed Jasewicz, chairman of the Fulton County Democratic Committee, said Lorey is entitled to his own opinion, but “it is his job to enforce all of the laws.”

“My hat goes off to Tom for expressing his opinion, and he has been a huge figure in this county for a lot of years, but if we didn’t enforce the law, where would we be in society,” Jasewicz said.

Jasewicz said he hopes that the next sheriff enforces the “letter of the law” and keeps his opinion to himself.

“That is what they are being paid to do,” he said, “so that’s what they should do.”

Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ralph Ottuso said Giardino would do a great job as sheriff but held off on endorsing him as county sheriff.

“Rich always gives 110 percent to whatever he does, and he does a really great job,” he said, “but let’s wait and see if someone else decides to enter the race.”

Fulton County Republican Committee Chairwoman Susan McNeill said she plans to sit down with all of the candidates in coming weeks.

“We will sit down with all of them and see where they are and what they support,” she said. “We want to see if they have strong Republican values and principles.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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