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State Supreme Court race is crowded

State Supreme Court race is crowded

Three retirements and one seat up for regular re-election make for an unusually crowded ballot for t

Three retirements and one seat up for regular re-election make for an unusually crowded ballot for the state Supreme Court bench in the district that includes Schenectady, Amsterdam and points north.

The field includes five judges currently sitting in various capacities from city court to county court, family court and Supreme Court. It also includes a magistrate and two practicing attorneys.

The eight candidates are vying for four slots. Three of the slots are being vacated by mandatory retirements, by judges who have turned or will soon turn 70: Justices Richard Aulisi of Fulton County and Barry Kramer and Vincent J. Reilly Jr., both of Schenectady County.

Meet the candidates

Thomas Buchanan

Age: 43

Home: Rotterdam

Occupation: Senior litigation attorney for Hacker Murphy, Latham

Education: Graduated SUNY-Albany in 1993; Albany Law School, 1998

Family: Three children, ages 12, 14 and 18

Party: Republican, Conservative

Felix J. Catena

Age: 55

Home: Amsterdam

Occupation: Montgomery County Court judge

Education: Graduated American University, Washington, D.C., in 1979; California Western University School of Law, San Diego, 1985

Family: Wife, Barbara; three children, ages 17, 20 and 22

Party: Republican, Conservative

Christine M. Clark

Age: 45

Home: Schenectady

Occupation: Schenectady County Family Court judge

Education: Graduated Columbia University, 1993; Albany Law School, 1996

Family: Husband, Arend van der Veen; two children, ages 5 and 9

Party: Democrat

John T. Ellis

Age: 47

Home: Tupper Lake

Occupation: Family Court support magistrate

Education: Graduated Siena College, 1987; Albany Law School, 1990

Family: Wife, Heidi; two children, ages 2 and 8

Party: Republican, Conservative

Mark L. Powers

Age: 57

Home: Schenectady

Occupation: Schenectady County Family Court judge

Education: Graduated SUNY-Albany; Western New England School of Law, 1984; master’s from Albany Law School, 2009

Family: Wife, Marcia; two children, ages 25 and 30

Party: Democrat

Joseph M. Sise

Age: 49

Home: Amsterdam

Occupation: State Supreme Court justice

Education: Graduated Siena College, 1985; Albany Law School, 1988

Family: Wife, Robin; four children, ages 15, 16, 19 and 21

Party: Republican, Conservative

John M. Silvestri

Age: 59

Home: Schroon Lake

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Graduated Hofstra University, 1976; Graduated Pace University School of Law, 1981

Family: Widowed, remarried; three children, ages 26, 29 and 32

Party: Democrat

Jeffrey D. Wait

Age: 52

Home: Saratoga Springs

Occupation: Saratoga Springs City Court judge

Education: Graduated University of Vermont; graduated Western New England College School of Law, 1987

Family: Wife, Mary Lou; three grown daughters

Party: Democrat

Of the eight candidates running, all would be able to serve full 14-year terms, though two would need the help of extensions.

Once judges reach the age of 70, they can apply for a total of three two-year extensions, up to the age of 76. Aulisi, Kramer and Reilly all have sought their first two-year extension. Decisions on those are expected next month.

Should the three be allowed to stay on, as expected, they would serve as three additional full-time justices in the 4th Judicial District.

The fourth seat is currently held by 49-year-old Justice Joseph M. Sise, of Montgomery County, who is running to keep his seat, seeking his second 14-year-term as justice.

The other candidates are: Thomas Buchanan, an attorney from Rotterdam; Felix J. Catena, a Montgomery County Court judge; Christine M. Clark, a Schenectady County Family Court judge; John T. Ellis, a magistrate in Franklin County Family Court; Mark L. Powers, a Schenectady County Family Court Judge; John M. Silvestri, an attorney from Chestertown; and Jeffrey D. Wait, a Saratoga Springs City Court judge.

Buchanan, Catena, Ellis and Sise are running on the Republican and Conservative party lines, while Clark, Powers, Silvestri and Wait are running on the Democratic party line.

Of the eight candidates rated by the Independent Judicial Qualification Commission, three are rated as highly qualified for the post — Catena, Powers and Sise. The other five, Buchanan, Clark, Ellis, Silvestri and Wait, were rated qualified.

Each is hoping to get one of the four 14-year terms on the court. State Supreme Court justices can hear a variety of cases, including civil. Some of the justices are also appointed to the court’s Appellate Division, hearing appeals from Supreme Court and county criminal courts.

They are running in the 4th Judicial District, which covers 11 counties, including Schenectady, Saratoga, Montgomery and Fulton, north to the Canadian border, an area that is home to an estimated 840,000 people.

Supreme Court judges in the state have been paid $136,700, an amount unchanged for years. A state commission in August 2011 directed that the positions would see a salary increase to $174,000 in increments over three years, beginning in 2012.


Buchanan, 43, of Rotterdam, has served as an attorney for 14 years. He graduated from Albany Law School in 1998. He currently serves as a senior litigation attorney for the Latham firm Hacker Murphy.

He points to his experience with Hacker Murphy representing clients in a wide range of cases as being a good background to step up to the bench.

“One hundred percent of my practice is in the Supreme Court, not in lower courts, not in Family Court, but in Supreme Court,” Buchanan noted.

At 43, Buchanan would be able to serve a full 14-year term on the court. He has three children, ages 12, 14 and 18. Buchanan has also previously served as chairman of the Rotterdam and Schenectady County Republican committees.


Catena, 55, of Amsterdam, is looking to move up to a full-time spot as a Supreme Court justice, having served as Montgomery County Court judge for the last 13 years, much of that time spent as an acting Supreme Court justice. He graduated from California Western School of Law in 1985.

In addition to his work in the regular courtroom, he pointed to his work starting the Montgomery County Drug Court program in 2001 as among his achievements, ensuring offenders whose crimes result from their drug use get treatment, lessening the chance they will re-offend.

Overall, Catena said he likes working as a judge and wants to continue that work.

“I enjoy attempting to resolve problems and conflicts,” Catena said, “it’s an opportunity for me to give back to the community and serve the public.”

At 55, Catena would be able to serve a full term. He is married, with three children. Though he lives in Amsterdam, he was asked to run by Fulton County Republican officials after their candidate, Fulton County Family Court Judge Edward Skoda, dropped out in July.


Clark, 45, of Schenectady, has been a Schenectady County Family Court judge since 2011, earlier serving as Schenectady City Court judge from 2005 to 2010. She also currently serves as an acting Supreme Court justice. She graduated from Albany Law School in 1996.

She formerly worked in the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor.

Clark said her background as both a prosecutor and a judge would help her as a full-time Supreme Court justice.

“I believe I work hard and treat everyone who appears in front of me with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” she said.

At 45, Clark would be able to serve a full term as justice. She is married with two children.


Ellis, 47, of Tupper Lake, would be the first Franklin County-based justice since the retirement of Justice Jan Plumadore in 2009. Ellis is currently a Family Court support magistrate, assigned to Warren and Saratoga counties, with his work reviewed by a family court judge. He graduated from Albany Law School in 1990.

He previously worked in private practice from 1995 to 2005 in family law, civil litigation and other areas. He also worked as an assistant district attorney in Franklin County from 2000 to 2005. He started his career with the 82nd Airborne Division, serving as a trial counsel.

“I think all of it adds up,” Ellis said.

The 47-year-old would be able to serve an entire term. He is married with two children.


Powers, 57, of Schenectady, has served 11 years as Schenectady County Family Court judge. He has also served as an acting Supreme Court justice since 2004. He graduated from Western New England School of Law in 1984.

He said he believes his experience as Family Court judge and acting Supreme Court justice would serve him well.

“In that time I’ve handled just about every kind of case,” Powers said, “from matrimonial to personal injury and real property disputes.”

At 57, Powers would turn the retirement age of 70 just before his term expired, but would be able to serve out his term with the help of an extension.

He is married with two children.


Sise, 49, of Amsterdam, is the only incumbent in the race. He was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1998, after three years as a Montgomery County Court judge. He graduated from Albany Law School in 1988.

He said he’s found the job a rewarding one in his 14 years on the Supreme Court bench, wading through complex issues of law and serving the citizens. As a Supreme Court justice, he has also served throughout the 11-county district.

“It is a very challenging and yet a rewarding job,” Sise said.

As a 49-year-old, he would be able to complete a second tern. He is married with four children.


Silvestri, 59, of Schroon Lake, is an attorney based in Chestertown. He’s also served as town attorney for the town of North Hudson since 2003 and was an assistant district attorney in Warren County in the 1980s. He graduated from the Pace University School of Law in 1981.

He said he has had the opportunity to handle many cases in his 30 years as an attorney, including domestic violence and other cases. He believes his experience gives him a social awareness of the practical issues faced by people who come before the court.

“I think I can do more good for more people from that side of the bench than I do presently as an advocate for people before the court,” Silvestri said.

At 59, He would be able to serve a full term with the help of extensions. Silvestri is widowed, but remarried. He has three grown children.


Wait, 52, of Saratoga Springs, has been a Saratoga Springs City Court judge since 2009. Before that, he was in private practice, having graduated from Western New England College School of Law in 1987.

He said most of his practice through the years was in Supreme Court, and he would bring that experience to the Supreme Court bench.

“It’s a very important job because it affects a lot of people’s lives in so many different ways,” Wait said.

Wait would be able to serve a full term as justice. He is married with three grown daughters.

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