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Saratoga mayor replaces city judge

Saratoga mayor replaces city judge

Yepsen replaces longtime Republican judge with Democrat
Saratoga mayor replaces city judge
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen delivers her State of the City Address on Jan. 30.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

Longtime City Court Judge Jim Doern won’t be returning to the bench in the new year.

His last day is Friday after Mayor Joanne Yepsen appointed two Democrats to the two full-time positions — one of whom works for the law firm that represented her when she was investigated for an ethics violation over the summer.

“I was honored and privileged to serve the people of Saratoga Springs for the last 18 years,” Doern said Thursday. “The mayor made her decision, and I accept it.”

City Republican Chairman Matt Hogan said he wasn’t surprised by Doern’s judicious response.

“That’s why Jim has been a great judge for the last 20 years,” he said. “He’s very diplomatic, even when he’s getting mixed up in this partisan, political mess that he shouldn’t be.”

Yepsen countered that the decision was not political, “and apparently they are making this political and trying one more time to make a political attack.”

Yepsen, a Democrat, recently appointed sitting City Court Judge Jeffery Wait, a Democrat who had served in the elected position since 2010, to a 10-year term starting Jan. 1. The Republican Doern has held the appointed full-time judge post since April of 2014 when a new state law allowed the city to have two full-time judges instead of one. He served 15 years as the city’s part-time judge before the job became full-time, a change that led him to leave the Saratoga Springs law firm where he was a partner.

On Wednesday, Yepsen appointed Francine Vero, an attorney and registered Democrat who practices business and commercial law at Harris Beach PLLC in Saratoga Springs, to the other full-time judge position, a one-year term starting Jan. 1. The position will be up for election in November 2017.

“I think she’s going to be a fantastic addition to the city and bring a new perspective, and take the city into the future in a positive way,” Yepsen said.

To take the position, Vero will be leaving Harris Beach, which represented Yepsen when she was investigated by the city Ethics Board last summer. The mayor was found guilty of the charge, related to her soliciting fundraising work from the Saratoga Hospital Foundation when the hospital had a zoning application pending before the city, and censured by the City Council in July.

“Her bill was $12,000 and the city taxpayers had to pay the mayor’s legal fees,” Hogan said, “and now she’s paying her attorney back by giving her an appointment over someone who’s been City Court judge for 20 years.”

Yepsen dismissed the claim, saying she was represented by another attorney from the same firm.

“He didn’t do his research very well because, actually, she wasn’t my head council on that issue,” she said.

Yepsen said Vero was selected from a pool of qualified candidates who included Doern. A 2006 graduate of Albany Law School, Vero is a member of the Saratoga County Bar Association and served a two-year term as president of the Adirondack Women’s Bar Association, according to a news release from the mayor’s office. She also completed the Leadership Saratoga program in 2012, served on the board of directors of Wellspring and currently serves on the board of directors for the Saratoga Springs Rotary Education Foundation.

“I think the world of Jim,” Yepsen said. “I think he’s done a great service to the city. I think he has accomplished a lot. It was a tough decision, but I do feel that Francine is going to take this city into the future — and just remember that it is going to be determined by the voters.”

Doern would not say if he plans to run for the elected, 10-year judge post next year or find employment elsewhere.
“I’m not going to speculate or guess about what my future is going to be,” he said. “I’m working on that.”

Hogan said he hopes Doern chooses to run, calling him “one of the finest judges we’ve ever had in Saratoga.”

“It’s doing a disservice to the city by taking him out of that position,” he said.

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