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Lowville officials still awaiting state guidance on judge vacancy

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LOWVILLE — Town officials still are waiting on state guidance before deciding how to handle a vacant judge post.

“We’ve been in touch with the comptroller’s office and also the attorney general’s office,” town attorney Raymond A. Meier told council members during their meeting Thursday.

Lewis County Board of Elections officials noticed last week that Judge John J. Youngs, who was appointed to the post in January 2004 and ran unopposed in the November elections of 2004 and 2008, should have run for a new four-year term in November. Town officials had left the post off their “offices to be filled” list submitted to county election officials last year, and the omission was not noticed then.

An opinion from the attorney general’s office has been requested as to whether the situation constitutes a regular vacancy, which could be filled by Town Council appointment, or a “failure to elect” under state Public Officers Law, Mr. Meier said. Under the latter scenario, the vacancy could be filled only by a special election called by the governor; under the former option, the seat would be kept vacant until after the November general election, he said.

A special election would cost roughly $5,000, according to Lewis County election officials.

State officials are trying to get the town answers in an expeditious manner, but the unprecedented nature of the situation makes that difficult, Mr. Meier said.

“This is, frankly, something unique,” he said.

Meanwhile, the comptroller’s office has been asked whether the roughly $1,400 in salary paid by the town to Mr. Youngs for January and February should be returned, Mr. Meier said. While that likely will be required, the town also would need guidance on how to handle it logistically, he said.

Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said no action should be taken until direction is given by the state.

“That’s a prudent course to take,” Mr. Schell said. “I don’t want to do anything rash that is going to affect cases in that court.”

All open cases are being transferred to the town’s other judge, Asa J. Holbrook.

About 20 people who have had traffic violation cases disposed of by Mr. Youngs so far this year will have their cases transferred to Judge Holbrook and soon be notified by letter, Mr. Meier said. However, as with any traffic tickets, they may choose to handle them by mail if they don’t wish to appear in court, he said.

Mr. Youngs earlier this week said that he certainly is not a politician, hence he did not catch the mistake, but that he intends to seek the judgeship again.

“This was a simple oversight,” he said. “There was no malicious intent. This apparently is a unique problem that proves that, despite modern technology, situations like this can still occur.”

Because Judge Holbrook’s term expires at the end of this year, both judicial spots probably will be on the November ballot, with the top two vote-getters earning the seats.

The Town Council on Thursday also approved renewal of the town’s liability insurance policies. Premiums are to increase by 6.8 percent, from $21,493.65 to $22,970.51.

Highway Superintendent Richard T. Dening also reported that conversion of the town and village office building from heating oil to natural gas likely would cost about $16,000.

He said last year’s conversion of the town highway garage to natural gas is expected to cut the previous year’s $16,000-plus heating bill roughly in half, and the office building traditionally has cost more to heat than the garage.

The Town Council took no formal action but, given the prospect of a two- to three-year return on investment, encouraged Mr. Dening to continue to research the project.

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