FONDA — A pair of first-time candidates running for Montgomery County Family Court judge each have a long history practicing law in the area and a personal focus on supporting families in the community.
Republican and Conservative candidate Michael Dayian and Democratic candidate Bethany Schumann-McGhee are vying for election to the 10-year term of Montgomery County Family Court judge.
Dayian graduated from Albany Law School in 1994 and was admitted to the Third Department Appellate Division the following year. He started his career in Schenectady County Family Court before becoming an assistant public defender in Montgomery County Family Court in 1997, the same year he made his home in Amsterdam.
Dayian worked in family and criminal courts until leaving private practice when he was appointed court attorney for Montgomery County Court, first by Judge Joseph Sise and later by Judge Felix Catena, for more than 21 years.
In that position, Dayian researches and analyzes legal issues, drafts opinions and court actions, advises judges on legal issues and conducts conferences with individuals involved in legal actions to clarify issues to be resolved or settle cases.
Schumann-McGhee, originally from Fonda, worked on the legislative staff of then Assemblyman Paul Tonko after earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1995. She worked full-time while attending Albany Law School and earning her law degree in 2005.
Schumann-McGhee worked for Tabner, Ryan, and Keniry, LLP in Albany for several years before opening her own firm locally in 2010 when she was ready to start a family in Amsterdam. Her practice includes matrimonial and family law, estate planning, real estate transactions, business development contracts and vehicle and traffic issues.
“Family law is the area of my practice where I can help people’s lives improve,” she said. “Clients are often facing the hardest time in their lives. They are often angry, and upset. In many cases, they are fighting for their most precious asset – their children. My focus has always been to listen, to show compassion, to help clients stay grounded and focused on their children’s best interest, and to help them look past the hurt feelings and co-parent.”
Helping children have a voice when developing an agreement that takes into account their feelings and what is best for them is an integral part of her work, Schumann-McGhee said. She is the parent to three children with husband Wesley McGhee, a police lieutenant in Schenectady.
Rules governing judicial conduct limit the ability of candidates and sitting judges to discuss their conduct in office or specifics of their decision-making process inconsistent with the impartial performance of the duty. Both candidates expressed a commitment to thoroughly review the facts of each case that may come before them and listening to all involved parties.
“Every person appearing in the Family Court is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, to notice and an opportunity to be heard, to have their concerns timely addressed, and to understand why the court is doing what it is doing. This means disputes which cannot be resolved through negotiation or mediation are resolved decisively and fairly through the unbiased application of the law to the facts,” Dayian said.
“I will follow the law fairly, focused on the best interests of the children involved, and will treat all parties with respect,” Schumann-McGhee said.
Dayian pointed to the importance of a “timely” and “decisive” resolution to family court cases due to their nature while highlighting his experience ensuring the court calendar runs efficiently and working as a trained court mediator to reach resolutions.
“Important issues affecting the family are often in limbo during the family court process and any delay in determining issues affecting the family can be detrimental,” Dayian said. “I understand and have practiced active case management essential to the delivery of justice … I know from firsthand experience how important it is to listen and help facilitate discussions to identify issues that may be preventing an agreement.”
Both candidates have an extensive history of community service. Dayian has been chairman of the Amsterdam Housing Authority Board of Commissioners since 2014, is currently serving his second term as president of the Montgomery County Bar Association, is a member of Amsterdam’s Urban Renewal Agency and formerly served on the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education.
Schumann-McGhee has served on the Montgomery County SPCA Board of Directors for over a decade, is the current vice-chair of the Fulton-Montgomery County Community College Board of Trustees, serves on the board of the Fulton Montgomery Schoharie Private Industries Council, has volunteered as the attorney for Montgomery County Habitat for Humanity since helping them incorporate in 2011 and formerly served as a member of the Montgomery County Office for Aging Foundation and Legal Aid Society of NENY.
Schumann-McGhee said she got her start serving the community as a teenager following her family’s example of giving back “when you are blessed and can help a stranger.” She grew up watching her father, an auto mechanic in Fonda, spend his free time helping his community.
“He’d fix a car when he knew someone didn’t have the money so that they could get to work. He plowed every snowstorm for the widow next door. I was able to attend college because of financial aid and subsidized student loans, and know how that opportunity changed my life. I hope that the work I’ve done and will continue to do raises up our community, both in a material sense, but also emotionally and spiritually,” Schumann-McGhee said.
Dayian and Schumann-McGhee are both committed to continuing to contribute to the community and each highlighted their professional and personal experiences in explaining their qualifications as candidates for Montgomery County Family Court judge.
“For the past 26 years, I have worked in the family, county, and supreme courts resolving disputes as an advocate, a trial lawyer, and currently as a court attorney and mediator. I have worked in the court system learning from and advising its judges,” Dayian said. “There is simply no better foundation for the position of family court judge than direct court-related experience. It is that experience, combined with my experience as a husband and father of two wonderful daughters, that makes me the best, most well-rounded candidate.”
“Family is everything,” Schumann-McGhee said. “I have been representing men, women and children in family courts all around the capital region extensively during my career. I also donate dozens of hours each year on pro bono [free] legal family law services. I am compassionate and respectful. I am involved and invested in our community and volunteer my time extensively. I care about families, and want to help strengthen them.”
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.