Schenectady County

State censures Princetown Town Justice Michelle VanWoeart over inappropriate election statements

VanWoeart advertised she would raise more revenue than incumbent, and "liked" social media criticism of him
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Categories: News, Schenectady County

PRINCETOWN — A Princetown town justice has been censured by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for making inappropriate statements in election campaign literature and in social media posts.

Michelle A. VanWoeart, who took office in January 2019 and was previously a town justice in Princetown from 1997 to 2013, made statements during the 2018 election campaign indicating she would seek to raise fine revenue for the town, and that was inappropriate. the commission determined in a March 31 finding that was released Monday.

“A judge is obliged to decide every case on the merits, without regard to how much or how little revenue the decision will generate for the local government,” said Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian. “It is flat-out wrong for a judicial candidate to imply that electing him or her would put money in the local treasury, rather than deliver justice to the litigants and community.”

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The statements about raising revenue from fines were made during VanWoeart’s 2018 multiple-party primary campaign for town justice. She also “liked” or replied to crude comments about her election opponent, then-justice Norm Miller, the commission found. Both actions, the commission said, “failed to maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and failed to act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.”

In campaign literature and in an ad placed in The Daily Gazette, VanWoeart’s campaign compared fine revenue generated when she was previously justice to fine revenue raised while Miller was judge. Such fines typically come from disposition of traffic ticket charges such as speeding violations.

The commission described VanWoeart as cooperative and contrite throughout the most recent proceeding. She did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

It was not the first time she has been censured by commission.

During her previous service as town justice, VanWoeart was censured in 2012 for not expeditiously transferring animal control violations issued to her and her sons to another court, and then having inappropriate ex parte communications with the judge the case was transferred to. Ex parte communications are one side of a case communicating to a judge without the other’s knowledge.

VanWoeart’s current term will run through the end of 2022.

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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