Schenectady County Family Court’s next judge could very well be decided during the primary election next week.
Jill Polk, a senior attorney for the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, is challenging Kevin Burke, the chief prosecutor of abuse and neglect cases for the county’s Department of Social Services, for the Democratic nomination. Polk and Burke also will square off in a primary to hold the Working Families Party line.
There is no Republican or third party challenger in the race, in which Burke holds endorsements from the Democrats, Conservatives, Independence Party and Green Party. Polk has an endorsement form the Working Families Party.
If Polk sweeps the primaries, Burke will remain on three lines during the regular election. If Burke emerges victorious in both, however, the only contest he’ll potentially face in November is a write-in campaign.
At stake is the seat on the bench vacated by Christine Clark when she was sworn in as a state Supreme Court justice in January. The winner will serve 10 years on the bench in one of the 3rd Judicial District’s busiest family courts.
And a new family court judge couldn’t come soon enough. Clark’s departure has left Mark Powers as the sole full-time judge at the court, with four part-timer judicial hearing officers assisting him to reduce the case load.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo could have appointed an interim judge for the court, but opted against it. The result has been a backlog of cases in the court, which was being contemplated for a third judge’s position before Clark resigned.
Both candidates come with a high degree of experience in family court matters. And both view the judgeship as a position in which they can positively affect the community where they live.
A graduate of Albany Law School, Polk worked in Schenectady’s Family Court for 17 years. She said the experience there and working as a senior court attorney for Nettie Jean Scarzafava — a former family court judge in Otsego County — gave her the desire to run for the position.
“This is the next step in my career,” she said.
The longtime Niskayuna resident also touted her pro bono work, which landed her an award from the Capital District Women’s Bar Association. Since 2008, she has been responsible for investigating complaints against members of the New York State Judiciary and alleged violations of the Rules Governing Judicial Misconduct, a role she believes has given her added insight.
“My decision [to run for family court judge] comes from the belief that I’m the best candidate,” she said. “I have a broader understanding of the different components of being a family court judge simply because I’ve worked in them.”
Burke, 46, and a native of Scotia, has practiced in the family court for his entire 19-year career. The graduate of the Syracuse University School of Law said he’s well aware of the workload at the court and understands the responsibility that comes with the position of judge.
“I’m no stranger to hard work, that’s for sure,” he said. “The positions I’ve held have always been positions of great responsibility with a lot of work.”
Burke received a highly qualified rating from the state Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission, and was the only non-judge to in the 3rd Judicial District to receive this distinction. He’s worked as both as both a defense counsel and prosecutor in the family court, an experience that he says has helped him become a decisive litigator that understands the gravity of presiding over family court proceedings.
“It’s direct contact with our community and it has an immediate impact,” he said.