Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III will announce his candidacy for County Court judge at a press conference this morning.
Murphy, 52, of Saratoga Springs, will be seeking the Republican nomination to replace Jerry J. Scarano, who has been the county court judge for the p ast 20 years and will be retiring.
Scarano this year will turn 70, the mandatory retirement age for county court judges. It is also at the end of his second 10-year term, and he confirmed this week he will retire at year’s end.
Murphy has been the county’s district attorney, or chief prosecutor, since 1998. He was an assistant district attorney under David A. Wait for a decade before that. Murphy was elected to a fifth four-year term last fall without opposition.
The office prosecutes about 10,000 criminal cases and 100,000 vehicle and traffic cases each year and is large enough that Murphy’s role is largely administrative.
Murphy has already sent a letter to town and city Republican committee members across the county expressing his interest in the judgeship and seeking their support for the nomination. County Republican Chairman John Herrick said he knows of no other prospective candidates and doesn’t expect any to come forward.
“I’d be surprised if anyone does, he’d be such a formidable candidate for the Republicans,” Herrick said Thursday.
At 10:30 this morning, Murphy will hold a news conference at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs to make an official announcement.
“Let me assure you that if elected, I would bring the same degree of hard work, dedication and commitment to the County Court that I have to the DA office,” Murphy said in his letter. “If I have the honor to be elected as the County Court Judge, I promise I will be fair, impartial, thoughtful and reasoned in my deliberations.”
The county court judge hears the county’s most serious criminal cases, including presiding at jury trials in high-profile cases. County court handles the disposition of all felony criminal cases, and during Scarano’s tenure launched a successful drug court that steers people into treatment programs instead of prison.
Assuming the Republican Party nominates him, Murphy will be a heavy favorite to be elected in the fall. The GOP has a wide voter enrollment advantage in the county and controls all countywide elected offices.
County Democratic Chairman Todd Kerner said the party will seek candidates for both judge and district attorney, if that office becomes open.
“Anyone who is interested can contact us,” Kerner said. “It’s best to have as many qualified people as possible.”
As judge, Murphy would earn $150,975 per year, the same salary he receives as district attorney.
Murphy’s nomination would in turn set up a need to replace him running as district attorney. Karen Heggen is the first assistant district attorney and senior member of Murphy’s staff, but the office has 15 full-time and four part-time assistant district attorneys. Many of them have been with the office a decade or longer and have substantial trial experience.
Herrick said “we have a long way to go” before discussing a district attorney vacancy, and there may also be attorneys outside Murphy’s office interested in the job.
Murphy comes from a prominent political family in Saratoga Springs. His maternal grandfather, Carleton King, was district attorney in the 1950s and a congressman from 1960-74. His father, James A. Murphy Jr., is a former mayor of Saratoga Springs. The younger Murphy would, however, be the first member of the family to serve as a full-time judge, commonly considered the highest calling to which a lawyer can aspire.
Murphy is a graduate of Bates College in Maine and Pace University School of Law. He is a past president of the New York State District Attorneys Association. He is married with two college-age daughters.