By Jo E. Prout
ALTAMONT – Village Justice Neil A. Taber announced this week that he will not run for re-election when his term ends in March.
Taber, 85, has spent 32 years as a judge in Altamont.
“Sitting on the bench, you have to go strictly by the law. You can’t let your personal feelings or personal judgment get in the way,” Taber told The Enterprise this week.
Taber has applied his own style over the years. In 2004, Taber dismissed several cases en masse.
On Dec. 22 of that year, Taber recalled in an earlier report, he held court three days before Christmas.
Most of the offenders were there for speeding violations, he said. Taber told them that the minimum fine for speeding was $90 with a $55 surcharge on top, he recalled.
“I told them all I was going to give them an ACOD,” he said, referring to adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning, if they were not arrested again in six months, there would be no record of their arrests; they would pay no fines.
“They all stood up and cheered and clapped,” recalled Taber. “Afterwards, [then Mayor] Paul DeSarbo said, ‘That’s the first time I’ve heard people cheering in court.’ One of them said I was like Santa Claus in a black robe.”
Last year, Taber’s style made the news, again, when he cut a defense argument short during a criminal case against a local contractor facing state Department of Environmental violations.
Taber interrupted testimony several times, and said, “This is going on way too long. I’ll give you another five minutes, and then I’ve heard enough.”
Taber told the defense attorney to stop referring to an affidavit the prosecution had submitted.
“That’s my ruling,” Taber said, when the attorney questioned him. “I don’t want to sit here any longer.”
“I’m going to move for a mistrial,” the attorney said more than once.
“Your motion is denied, again,” Taber said. “I’ll allow you five minutes more, then I’m shutting you down.”
Taber wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, printed this week, inviting anyone interested in serving as a justice to acquire the signatures and submit the forms required before March.
His replacement should be “a good moral person, a person with a good background, and a person who is willing to attend an awful lot of training,” he said this week, noting that those without law degrees, or lay people, can be elected judge.
“During the year, there’s always training and you have to pass exams,” he said.
Twice a year, Taber attends required training sessions put on by the state’s Office of Court Administration, he said previously, and he passes the state exams to remain certified. He attends other training sessions as well, Taber said earlier, and has participated in teleconferences on summary proceedings.
There are limits he faced as a judge, he said this week.
“I can’t voice my opinion, whereas, you can, about any trial going on anywhere in the United States,” Taber said. “There are a lot of things judges have to be aware of.”
Taber said that he does not know of any cases of his that had been overturned.
“I think I’ve done a good job,” he said.
“As a judge — a town or village justice — you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can be called anytime to do arraignments,” he said.
Taber and Village Justice Rebecca Hout share courtroom duties, alternating court dates.
“It occupies quite a bit of your time,” he said. In his 32 years, Taber said, he has performed 118 weddings.
“It’s been interesting,” he said.
Taber grew up in Knox, and served in the Air Force during World War II as a flight engineer. He married his wife, Dorothy, in 1949 and they bought their house in Altamont in 1956. They had six children.
He was employed by General Electric doing air-conditioning and plumbing work for 39 years. Concurrently, Taber worked as a pilot for the Albany Skydiving Center for eight years. He also worked as a village police officer and, later, on road patrol with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, where he earned the rank of lieutenant.
Taber has been a member of the Schoharie Valley Cropdusters radio-controlled airplane club for many years, and he is the vice-president of the Helderberg Rod and Gun Club. He served as president of the gun club for 23 years, and has been a member since 1948, a year before he married.
“I’m a strong supporter of our Second Amendment,” he said. “A lot of people are upset about [guns] and I don’t blame them, but...I put holes in paper targets and clay pigeons. I’ve done an awful lot of shooting.”
As a police officer, he said, he never shot his gun once while on duty. He called some gun-control arguments “a lot of hooey, as far as I’m concerned.” Taber still shoots every Monday night in a pistol league, he said.
Taber also likes to fish, bowl, and golf.
“I’m active. I don’t let moss grow underneath my feet,” he said.
Taber and his wife are proud of their family.
“We, within the last few months, have had two new great-grandchildren. Two beautiful babies. We’re very proud of that,” he said.