CLIFTON PARK — A Democrat who currently works as an attorney in the state court system has entered the race for Clifton Park town justice, challenging incumbent Republican Judge James F. Hughes.
Jennifer Jeram, a Niskayuna native who graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Law and who has previously advocated for domestic violence victims, said it is time for a change in the local court.
“Clifton Park has changed a lot these past 40 years,” she said. “There has been so much growth — new families, new businesses and new developments. Clifton Park needs a new judge with fresh ideas to make sure that Town Court stays on pace with this growth.”
Jeram, 41, has worked as an attorney in the state court system for the last 15 years, first for the Appellate Division, and since 2009 for state Supreme Court Justice Robert Muller in Warren County. A court attorney does legal and case research on the judge’s behalf. Since the Town Court position is part-time, she will still be able to do that job.
“I pride myself on being even-handed and always looking at both sides of every dispute,” Jeram said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am hardworking, I know the law and I will not stop until I find the answer. Irrespective of whether one side is represented by an attorney and the one side is not, irrespective of race, gender, sexuality, religion or anything else, I will figure out, based on the facts of the case, who should prevail. I am dedicated to the administration of justice, and will ensure that the court system is always a place where people can turn for fairness and impartiality.”
Jeram is married and the mother of three children, ages 9, 7, and 4. She has lived in Clifton Park since 2009. If elected, she would be the town’s first female judge.
Jeram is already endorsed by the Clifton Park Democratic Committee. She planned to officially announced her candidacy Thursday evening.
She is a graduate of Niskayuna High School and McGill University in Montreal. She worked as a case manager at the YWCA domestic violence shelter in Schenectady after college, and that led to her interest in attending law school. She interned at the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office while in law school. After law school she worked for a private Albany law firm and represented domestic violence victims pro bono, which led to her decision to move to the court system.
“I saw the difference a judge can make in people’s lives,” Jeram said.
Hughes, 81, said he is in good health and ready to run for an eleventh four-year term. A native of Long Island, he joined the Navy at age 17, then passed the test to become a state trooper following four years of service. He spent 20 years in the state police, founding the Clifton Park substation, and ran for and was elected town justice soon after retiring. While serving in Clifton Park, he was also the acting Mechanicville City Court judge for six years.
Having gotten a college degree at night while a trooper, at age 45, Hughes graduated from Albany Law School, and he continues to practice as an attorney for children in the region’s family courts, he said.
“There was a lot of effort on my part, and a lot of support from my family,” he said. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m not a kid. I get a physical every year, and I’m healthy.”
Hughes said he is open to new ideas for the courts, but said the court first must get through the disruptions being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed physical courtrooms and delayed court proceedings, with a backlog of around 1,000 traffic tickets in Clifton Park alone. The court recently had to close for three days after a clerk tested positive for COVID.
“I’m sure she’s more than capable of doing the job,” he said of Jeram. “When people say it’s time for a change, I have a three-letter answer: Why?”
Jeram has proposed that the town explore establishing a special domestic violence court, and Hughes said he doesn’t oppose the idea, noting that he frequently deals with domestic violence issues in his family court work.
The town’s other town justice, Democrat Robert Rybak, has been in office 42 years. He won’t be up for re-election until 2023.
As of 2021, Clifton Park justices earn $42,046 annually.