Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos signature on legislation elevating part-time Judge Catherine J. Palermo to become a second full-time city court judge presents a dilemma for the Watertown City Council, which appointed Ms. Palermo upon Mayor Jeffrey E. Grahams recommendation.
The legislation assures Ms. Palermo that she will be a full-time judge until 2018 the term to which the council appointed her.
For four years, the city judicial system will have a unique relationship with the citys residents. Judge Eugene R. Renzi was elected a full-time judge in 2011 when Judge James C. Harberson retired. His term expires in 2021.
City judges have always been elected in Watertown and should be in the future. Having a second full-time judge sitting as an appointee of the mayor and the City Council is not appropriate.
Elected judges with long terms stand above the daily vagaries of politics, assuring the accused that the judge hearing the case is independent of appointing agents who just might importune the judge. An independent, elected judiciary answers only to the voters.
Elected judges dominate New Yorks judicial system. Town justices, county judges, certain city judges and Supreme Court judges all are out in office by voters.
The length of the terms and the electoral process maintain independence of the judiciary. The system of electing local judges works today just as it has worked throughout the history of New York State.
The City Council, which began a discussion of the issue Monday night at the initiative of Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., should not dawdle in resolving the dilemma. The legislation passed to create the second judgeship appears to leave this decision in the hands of the mayor and to a lesser extent the City Council in office in 2018.
In consultation with the city attorney, the council should prepare an action to have the state Legislature pass appropriate legislation to make the second judgeship an elective position at the time Ms. Palermos appointed term expires in 2018.
The council should initiate the required action during this winters state legislative session to prevent slick political fingers from embracing the prospect of appointing a judge to satisfy back room political motives. The message from the City Council should be clear: Voters must select both city judges from the sanctity of the voting booth.