New part-time town attorney is a county assistant public defender

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Patricia Wilson sits in the empty courtroom at Guilderland’s town hall. She has been hired as a part-time town attorney and expects that most of her work will involve looking into legal questions that arise through projects the zoning board of appeals is reviewing.

GUILDERLAND — Patricia Wilson was appointed by the town board on Feb. 5 as Guilderland’s assistant town attorney, a new post. She will continue to work full-time as an assistant public defender for Albany County.

Wilson will be paid $5,516 this year, according to town Clerk Jean Cataldo; full-time town attorney James Melita will be paid $44,726.

Wilson has no set hours, said town Supervisor Peter Barber, but will research issues as needed, when they arise, which he believes will help reduce Melita’s workload.

Wilson said she expects her work to involve mainly researching new or unusual issues that come up with regard to zoning and that do not already have a number of precedents.

Wilson has already looked into the legal issues surrounding a recent request to the zoning board for a so-called “electronic messaging center” — a sign with digital messages that change after a certain number of seconds — at Hamilton Square. Wilson said she couldn’t tell The Enterprise how she advised the zoning board because it is covered by attorney-client privilege.

“All I could do is advise the board as to the parameters of our zoning code. They’ll make a decision, which could be different from other towns, because of our zoning code,” she said.

She volunteered with the Albany County Office of the Public Defender for one year before beginning to work for that office in 2016, she said. As a volunteer, she worked in the Albany County Family Court during the days and at Guilderland Town Court every Thursday night, representing indigent people charged with crimes.

When Wilson worked as a volunteer in court, she said, there would always be at least one non-volunteer employee there as well.

Prior to working for the county, Wilson was a post-bar clerk with the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Albany. She also created presentations for the New York State Bar Association’s continuing legal-education program; she put together classes for attorneys to take in various areas of the law, such as property law, she said.

Wilson has passed the bar in both New York and California. She attended law school in California, at California Western School of Law.

Her father’s family is from New York City, she said, and her fiancé’s family lives in Albany.

Wilson was born in the Philippines, where her mother was born and raised. Her father was in the military, “in the Navy for over 35 years.” Her family moved back and forth several times between the Philippines and the United States as her mother tried to get used to life in the United States.

She was raised bilingually and speaks Tagalog fluently, she said.

Town’s view

Barber said this week that, during last year’s budget preparation, he raised the issue with the town board of hiring a part-time town attorney.

This new position, he said, should help reduce Melita’s workload. With the new townwide revaluation, Barber said, there will likely be an increase in assessment challenges. (See related story.)

Wilson came to Barber’s and Melita’s attention from her appearances in town court as an assistant public defender, Barber said, adding, that the town was interested in someone with experience in town court who could help with zoning enforcement and with providing legal assistance to the zoning board.

“Both Judge [John] Bailey and Judge [Denise] Randall were glad to see Patti appointed and they have been very impressed with her work in town court,” Barber wrote in an email.

The part-time position is exempt from Civil Service posting requirements, Barber said; no ads were placed for the post. “There’s no canvass list. It's also not a union position. For these types of positions, we look at résumés on file or recommendations from knowledgeable persons, like Ms. Wilson’s work in Town Court,” he wrote in an email.

Barber said that, before the recession hit, the town had had several assistant town attorneys who worked on issues related to the planning board, zoning board, and contracts and personnel.

Melita was one of 14 lawyers who applied to be town attorney when Richard Sherwood left that post to become a town judge. Sherwood resigned last year when he faced felony charges to which he later pleaded guilty. He was replaced on the bench, first by an appointed judge, Christine Napierski, and then by Bryan Clenahan after a hotly contested election.

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