Greene appointed village justice, Hout seeks another term

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

James R. Greene joins the March 3 crowd at Altamont Village Hall in giving retiring Trustee Bill Aylward a standing ovation. Later in the meeting, Mayor James Gaughan announced his appointment of Greene to serve as village justice for a year, filling a vacancy.


ALTAMONT — The village has a new justice — attorney James R. Greene. He will serve for a year, filling a vacancy, until the March 2016 election.

Meanwhile, Altamont’s other judge, Rebecca Hout, is up for re-election on March 18; she is unopposed. Also an attorney, Hout, 62, of Maple Avenue, has been in office for 21 years.

Greene, 51, who lives on Main Street in the village, has served on its planning board since 2010 and as its chair since 2012.

Mayor James Gaughan announced his appointment of Greene at the village board meeting March 3.

The village had just one justice, instead of two, since Lesley Stefan resigned on Jan. 2; she had been elected to the post in 2013. Stefan cited an impending move out of the village as her reason for resigning.

At the time Stefan resigned, Gaughan said the salary for justices is the same as the mayor’s salary: $4,623, “the lowest compensation in Albany County.” As with all of the village’s elected positions, he said, the point is not economic gain, but performing an important public service.

The state’s Village Law allowed Gaughan to appoint a replacement immediately upon Stefan’s resignation, but he chose to wait and take time to find a qualified candidate. Being an attorney is not a requirement for village justices, but Gaughan indicated in January that he would prefer to find a village resident who is active in village life and is also a lawyer.

Justice Rebecca Morse-Hout agreed to do double duty in the interim, fulfilling the responsibilities of two justices, through the end of March 2015, until an appointment could be made.

The law also allowed Gaughan to appoint a replacement for the fiscal year April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016, and he has selected Greene to serve as this interim justice.

A special election will still need to be held in March 2016 to fill out the remaining year of Stefan’s term, which runs through March 2017.

At the March 3 village board meeting, Gaughan introduced Greene and told village residents a little bit about his background.

Greene is an attorney with experience in both the private and public sectors. He graduated from Albany Law School in 1991 and is currently employed by New York State United Teachers.

He and his wife, Lynn, have lived in Altamont for 18 years and raised their two sons in the village.

Greene has been very active in village life. In addition to his work on the planning board, he has managed numerous Pine Bush Little League and Guilderland Babe Ruth baseball teams, served as Cubmaster for the Twin Rivers Boy Scouts, and managed Catholic Youth Organization basketball teams.

Before moving to Altamont, Greene served in volunteer positions that include secretary-treasurer of the Susan Odell Taylor School in Troy and president of the Trustees of the Endowment of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany.

Issues and perspectives

The Enterprise spoke to both Greene and Hout to gauge their reasons for wanting to serve as justices and to understand their perspectives on issues relevant to their work.

Greene said that he was accepting the appointment because he views it as a “terrific opportunity to provide service to the community.” He noted that he has been a licensed attorney since 1991 and that he has been in both public service and private practice over the years. He also noted the many community leadership positions he has held.

“If I can continue to serve the community, then I’m willing to do so,” said Hout of her reason for running again. In addition to her 21 years of experience as village justice, she has been a practicing attorney for, “Oh, I have to think here — 37 years.”

“My goal,” said Greene, “is just the basic one, of learning from Justice Hout. She’s been doing this for a long time.” He said that he also wants to ensure the efficient and smooth running of the village court.

“I think I want to continue to dispense justice as is appropriate under the law, and continue to abide by the laws of the State of New York,” said Hout of her goals as justice.

The governor has been pushing for consolidation of government entities. Voorheesville Village Court recently dissolved, with village cases now being heard in New Scotland Town Court. Greene and Hout were asked how much it costs to run Altamont’s court and what the advantages are of having a village court.

Greene said that he had to “plead ignorance” on the cost. “Being brand-new,” he said, “I don’t have any information regarding the cost.”

He said that the advantage of maintaining village status “is basically self-determination.” He said that the reason for remaining independent is the same reason that the village maintains its own police and fire departments as well as board of trustees: “just the ability to self-determine the issues that occur in Altamont.”

Hout noted that Altamont, unlike Voorheesville, has its own police department. As a result, she said, “We’re readily available.” If an arrest is made in the village, it takes five minutes to get to court, she estimated, and be available for arraignment.

She said she believes that the whole budget to run the court, apart from salaries, is about $18,000. She added that she was unsure of the amount of revenue the court generates to offset those costs, through fines, in support of the village.

Hout said that the situation in Altamont, as a village with its own police department, is unique. She pointed out that village justices “do serve four agencies, since arrests can be made by the State Police, the sheriff’s [office], the Guilderland Police, and the Altamont Police that are answered in Altamont Court.”

She concluded, “I think that we do provide a service.”

Hout and Greene were asked — in a small village where they are likely to know people who come before the bench — what guidelines they would follow for recusal and how often they would recuse themselves.

Greene said he didn’t know how often, but that anyone in a judicial capacity in New York State has to follow judicial ethics guidelines. Beyond that, he added, “It’s when there’s any appearance of impropriety, which I believe is one of the standards. So it’s not only a definite impropriety or a definite conflict of interest, but if there was even the appearance of a conflict of interest or an appearance of impropriety, I would recuse myself.”

Hout said that she has recused herself on occasion. Because she is an attorney in private practice, she has occasionally had someone appear before the bench whom she has previously represented, and in that case she has always recused herself. She added, “By having two judges in the court, it’s not usually a problem, because then the cases go to the other judge.”

Hout said that she would also recuse herself in the case of a strong personal relationship. Occasionally village residents whose name she recognizes may come before her, but she thinks that that is not a problem as long as “you don’t have a strong personal relationship, and as long as you can remain independent and objective.”

She also pointed out that, more often than not, defendants in Altamont Village Court are not from the village, but visiting, “for instance, when there are activities at the fairgrounds, or people who are just passing through.”

Finally, Greene and Hout were asked how often they would sentence someone to community service and based on what criteria.

Greene said that, while he believes community service is a viable alternative, this is his first judicial appointment, so he could not speak to how often or in what cases he might use it.

Greene said the use of alternative sentencing would need to be very fact- and circumstance-specific, and that he would also want to take into account the customs and protocols of the court.

Hout said that she has used the alternative of community service “quite often, particularly with young people that are in the courts that have relatively minor offenses.”

If she can keep them from having a record, if it’s appropriate and the prosecution and the defense all agree, she said, “then we’ll very often in those cases give community service, so that, if they complete it, the charges will be dropped.”

In cases involving young people charged with minor offenses, she said, community service can be a “great tool.” 

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