SARATOGA COUNTY -- With the circulation of nominating petitions due to start next week, it looks like there may be a Republican primary in Saratoga County for a Family Court judge's position.
Incumbent Family Court Judge Jennifer Jensen Bergan announced Wednesday that she will seek a primary to keep her seat this fall, after the Saratoga County Republican Committee In January endorsed Amy J. Knussman for the position.
Knussman is a partner in Donnellan & Knussman in Malta, and has practiced family law for about 20 years.
But Jensen Bergan said there was an "unfair and rigged nominating process" set up by the Republican Party to ensure Knussman got the endorsement. She said she was denied access to local town committee member contact information that Knussman was provided, and that Knussman is a neighbor and friend of county Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman in the town of Ballston.
Jensen Bergan is a former Saratoga County sex crimes prosecutor who in 2010 became the first woman elected to a county judgeship in Saratoga County. In addition to hearing Family Court cases as one of two county Family Court judges, she has been an acting state Supreme Court judge.
"Judge Jensen Bergan clearly has the credentials to continue to be the Family Court judge in Saratoga County Family Court," her announcement said. "No other candidate has any judicial experience, including any Family Court judge experience. Judge Jensen Began has been a Family Court judge for almost 10 years. Judge Jensen Began hopes that the voters agree with her so that she can continue to help the children and families in Saratoga County as she has been doing for the last 25 years."
Jensen Bergan announced her plans with the circulation of nominating petitions due to start on Tuesday, Feb. 25. They can be circulated for voter signatures throughout March, and are due to be filed with the county Board of Elections between March 30 and April 2. Assuming there is a primary, it will be held on Tuesday, June 23.
Zeilman on Wednesday said that Knussman, Jensen Bergan and a third candidate he wouldn't name all attended endorsement interviews in Ballston, Milton and Saratoga Springs in December, early in the seven-week candidate selection process. All those committees endorsed Knussman, and after that, Jensen Bergan didn't attend any more town committee interviews.
The selection process isn't rigged, he said. "I don't go to those meetings. The members from the 21 town committees make those decisions themselves," Zeilman said.
Zeilman acknowledged that he and Knussman live in the same town, but said they live several miles apart. "A lot of our candidates are friends." he said.
"None of our candidates are given committee rosters," Zeilman added. "It is up to the candidates to gather that information and then introduce themselves to the committee. They all have the same opportunity."
Zeilman said the third candidate continued through the process and attended the county committee endorsement meeting, even though Jensen Bergan didn't. The third person agreed to endorse the committee's choice, he said.
Knussman, a graduate of SUNY-Potsdam and Albany Law School, has previously been a candidate for the Republican nomination for a Family Court judgeship, though this is the first time she earned party backing. She has been practicing in family courts, mostly in Saratoga County, for nearly 20 years. She has been active on the town of Ballston and Saratoga County Republican committees, and in several local political campaigns.
“I have dedicated my entire legal career to the practice of family law and have substantially grown my Saratoga County law firm and business over the course of my legal career,” Knussman said when her endorsement was announced. “The position of Family Court judge is one that requires compassion, decisiveness, preparedness and fairness and the residents of our county deserve just that.”
Family Court judges serve a 10-year term, hearing matters involving child support, custody, juvenile misbehavior, and other legal issues involving children. The current salary for the position is $208,000 annually.
The Republican Party's wide enrollment advantage in Saratoga County means that whoever wins a Republican primary is likely to be elected in November, even if the Democrats have an announced candidate, which they currently do not.