Seven Dems reach for two seats on Family Court bench

ALBANY COUNTY — Two Albany Family Court seats are open since Margaret Walsh was elected to State Supreme Court and Gerald Maney is retiring.

Seven candidates are running in the June 25 primary to secure the Democratic line.  Albany County Democrats may cast their ballots for two of the seven on Tuesday.

The Enterprise spoke to the candidates about their relevant background, judicial philosophy, and one specific question related to the implementation of Raise the Age.

The specific question was:

— Thirteen welfare agencies across the state have volunteered, in response to a request by the state, to create enhanced residential programs meant to serve as an alternative to sending youths to secure facilities under Raise the Age legislation that went into effect on Oct. 1, 2018. These programs are set up to provide intensive treatment over eight months, meant to help keep youths from becoming involved in the criminal-justice system again.

One run by Northern Rivers in Schenectady was ready in December to serve youths from the entire Capital Region and beyond, but no youths have been placed there yet, and there is a total of only 20 young people in the 13 facilities statewide.

Was the creation of these facilities a good idea, and if so, why are they still nearly empty? As a family court judge having 16- and 17-year-olds come before you, in what kinds of cases would you consider placing youths in these enhanced residential programs?


Margaret C. Tabak  

Guilderland resident Margaret Tabak has been practicing law since being admitted to the bar in 1988. She previously ran her own firm, and now has a partnership, Tabak and Kiosse, LLP, focused on matrimonial and family law.

“Everything I’ve done kind of brings me to this place,” said Tabak when asked about her relevant background. Her mother died when she was young, and her father remarried; Tabak grew up in a blended family and learned firsthand that “families come in all shapes and sizes,” she said.

Tabak, 58, has represented men, women, and children in many family courts, “in front of hundreds of judges,” giving her a good sense of what various judges do well. She brings a lot of experience “hands-on in the trenches,” practicing in family court, she said, and is “blessed with a very good disposition, which I think you have or don’t have.”  

She described herself as passionate about her work, which has included a great deal of pro bono work, and as a strong advocate for her clients, but “not somebody who loses her cool easily.” Her work involves looking at all sides of a situation and advising clients accordingly, she said, and her ability to take a larger view will help her on the bench.

“People are in the court for a legal issue, but often there are underlying problems: education, poverty, housing, food, substance abuse, mental health issues,” she said. ‘My goal is to look at the big picture and say, ‘How can we address this?’ If we can look at the big picture, I won’t keep people in the revolving door of the family court.”

Tabak has been on the board of the Albany County and Schenectady County bar associations and is past president of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association. She is a member, she said, of the “small but mighty” B’nai Shalom Reformed Congregation in Albany.

One area she hopes to improve is the court’s efficiency; people sometimes have to wait for hours, she said.

Tabak’s judicial philosophy centers on knowing the law and being able to use it; being prepared and efficient; and being compassionate.

Tabak said, about the youths who would appear before her, that she would look at the statute and give the most appropriate correction. “My goal is people aren’t back in the criminal-justice system,” she added. It’s hard to gauge how well a particular type of facility will work because Raise the Age, which has “changed the face of juvenile justice,” she said, is so new.


William P. Andrews  

William P. Andrews is the county attorney assigned to Family Court. During the six years he has been in that post, he said, he has reduced juvenile placements by 80 percent, “by coming up with alternative and creative conditions, keeping kids out of placement in the spirit of Raise the Age, but above and beyond Raise the Age.”

Family Court involves a myriad of social problems and dynamics, Andrews said, that require knowing the law, the resources available, the community, and the people.

For him, the role of family court judge would not be a stepping-stone, he said. “This is the only position I’ve ever wanted to pursue.”

Decisions made in family court impact families for generations, Andrews said.

As a judge, he would be in a position to do more, he said, to “address the trauma that the kids have caused and the trauma that caused this behavior, to redirect them into positive directions.”

Too often, Andrews said, he sees families who don’t get resources on time, or whose resources are pulled from them too quickly. Not everyone is aware, he said, of all the not-for-profit resources available.

With regard to residential facilities, Andrews said that Raise the Age is “at its core a diversionary statute, and, if you have a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds being diverted to, say, probation, they’re not going to need to put them into these places.”

He said he imagines the few cases that aren’t being diverted may involve concern for the safety of the community or the juvenile. Residential facilities might be better used, he said, as “step-down facilities,” to reward success and good behavior at a secure facility.

Andrews has also served as an assistant public defender in Albany County Family Court, as an assistant district attorney in Albany County, as a special assistant district attorney for 17 counties, and as an assistant counsel in the New York State Insurance Department’s Fraud Bureau.

He has organized and helped run a statewide juvenile-justice training program for attorneys and has trained lawyers to be better Attorneys for the Children. He has also worked in private practice.

Andrews said he is the only candidate among the seven who has been the county attorney assigned to family court. There are many “really good candidates” in the field, he said, and many are his friends. Albany County would be well served with any of them, he said, adding, “I think I bring a little more energy and passion. And my résumé — actions speak louder than words.”


Jennifer K. Corona

Jennifer K. Corona has been a support magistrate in the Family Court of the Third Judicial District since 2016. She lives in Menands, but support magistrates can be appointed to any courts, she said, and she handles two: Rensselaer and Schoharie.

Corona, 49, conducts hearings, does complex research, and writes orders that critically affect families and children, she said of her quasi-judicial post.

Despite the title “support magistrate,” she makes all of the decisions and runs both courtrooms alone. She said, “I run an extremely fair and efficient courtroom.”

Before being appointed to the bench, Corona spent 20 years representing individuals in Family Court, as an attorney in private practice, she said. She is uniquely qualified, she said, because of her experience before the bench in the very courtroom she hopes to preside over, as well as her experience on the bench.

Family Court is a place where many people are going through the worst experiences of their lives and where people can become very emotional, she said. She has the temperament that is needed, she said, in that kind of environment.

“I’m extremely calm at all times, I do not allow the emotion to rattle me, and, believe me, it’s tested every single day,” Corona said. “People become emotional in the courtroom, and there’s often fighting.” She always remains even-tempered and always treats people with respect, she said.

Family Court is “not a place to cut your teeth,” she said. “It’s a court where you want a judge who knows what they‘re doing and has spent time in that court, and in my case I’ve spent time on the bench in that court.

“I’ve devoted my entire career to helping families and children. I’m passionate about it, and I want to bring that passion to the Albany County Family Court bench.

About Raise the Age, Corona said she thought that the ethical regulations governing judicial campaigns prevented her from speaking about the kinds of sentences she might make on the bench. There will likely be an increase in the number of young people assigned to residential treatment facilities like the one run by Northern Rivers, once the second phase of Raise the Age goes into effect this fall, she said, when the legislation will also begin to apply to 17-year-olds.

“Right now it’s a good thing that there are few young people, or none; it just means that young people aren’t committing those crimes,” she said.


Amy E. Joyce

For the past 14 years, Amy E. Joyce has worked as principal law clerk, first for the State Supreme Court, and now for the State Appellate Division, she said, explaining that a principal law clerk works closely with the judges to decide cases.

“In State Supreme Court, we did all kinds of civil law. In the Appellate Division, we decide appeals for all trial-based courts, including family courts,” Joyce said, adding that this includes 28 family courts in 28 upstate counties.

“So we’re deciding the most complex and serious Family Court cases in upstate New York,” Joyce said.

Previously, Joyce, 50, was Deputy County Attorney for former Albany County Executive Michael Breslin, and appeared in Family Court as well as State Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Federal District Court to represent and advocate for the agencies that provide services to children and families.

“All of that experience has led me to this point,” she said.

Her work in the Appellate Division in particular has allowed her to get a close look at how the Family Court works, and she has observed, she said, that, “too often, people weren’t being respected and weren’t really being heard.” She believes that the courthouse can be “more of a resource,” and said that that is how she wants to approach the work.

She would like to see more diversion courts, she said, and to “expand the network of stakeholders in the community that the court can work with so that it can be more of a resource.”

About Raise the Age, Joyce said that, as a judicial candidate, “Ethically speaking, I don’t know how much I can say.” She added, “I can say the judge would need to listen to the recommendation of the presenting agency and the recommendation of probation, and take those into consideration.”

Asked about her judicial philosophy, Joyce said that she considers the role of a judge to be a public servant and provide a service, in particular to children and families.

“People need to be heard,” she said.

Joyce is the second-oldest of the five children of Harold Joyce, who formerly served as chairman of the Albany County Legislature and chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee. She has two brothers in the Albany County Legislature: Raymond Joyce and Andrew Joyce. Andrew Joyce is chair of the legislature. In her campaign biography, Joyce writes that her father “instilled in each of his five children the importance of making government and the courts work for everyone.”


Sherri J. Brooks

Sherri J. Brooks has been involved for 12 years with indigent defense, she said: For the last seven years, she has headed the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and she was with the Public Defender’s Office for the five years before that.

One frustration for her is that judges sometimes apply unrealistic expectations to the youths before them “and set them up for failure.”

For instance, she said, a judge shouldn’t say to a young man who hasn’t been to school in two months, “You have to go to school every day or I’ll put you in placement,” because the youth will then shut down and believe that he has no chance of fulfilling that expectation.

Instead of coming from a “blanket perspective,” Brooks said, a judge needs to work with a family to learn what the dynamics are and provide an appropriate support system applicable to that family.

Her judicial philosophy, Brooks said, “coming from a black woman who knows what it feels like to be treated unjustly, is to be fair and respectful to everyone.”

The legal system is not trusted in certain communities, Brooks said, and she would like to restore people’s faith, “by showing them that it is equal for everyone.”

She is running because she would like to not only protect youth, but inspire them.

Brooks, 41, has spent more than 20 years giving back to youth in her community because she knows how important it is to start children off early with the right support and guidance, she said. She volunteers at elementary schools, mentors young people, and personally takes at least a dozen interns a year, she said.

Brooks is a member of the Raise the Age stakeholder group. Of enhanced residential facilities, she said, “I can tell you it’s good news that you don’t see placements.”

She continued, “We were going to increase the capacity of the secure facility, but saw the numbers were significantly less than expected.” Judges are leaning toward releasing youth, rather than detaining them, she said.

As a member of a counsel-at-first-appearance program of the Public Defenders and Alternate Public Defenders offices, Brooks has done two Raise the Age arraignments in the middle of the night. One took hours, she said, because arrangements needed to be made for a family member to come and get the youth from out of state, as opposed to sending the young person to a secure facility.

“I think the trend is to keep people out of the system,” she said.


David J. Levy    

David J. Levy, 44, is a lifelong Albany County resident.

He has served on the Attorney for the Children panel in 2007, in cases involving a wide range of issues including custody, neglect, abuse, juvenile delinquency, persons-in-need-of-supervision petitions, and adoption, “anything where a child is involved.”

He has also served since then on the 18B panel as an attorney assigned to represent indigent individuals and has represented more than 3,000 men, women, and children in the Albany County Family Court, he said.

Levy, who lives in Colonie, also acts as attorney liaison between the judges in the Albany County Family Court and the attorneys who practice in the court, attending monthly meetings with the judges; the Department for Children, Youth, and Families; Probation; and the Public Defender’s and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office. This provides him unique insight, he said, into the workings of the court and what processes might be improved.

“I’ve gone to their houses, schools, I’ve met them in Burger Kings and McDonalds,” he said of the children and families he has represented. “I’ve helped them with their homework while I meet with them. I have an understanding of what these children are going through, from the volume of the experience I have.” He wants to use that experience to make their lives better, he said.

Family-court judges may hear 25 cases in a day, Levy said. “They’re making significant decisions about people’s lives, all day long. If you make the wrong decision, somebody could get hurt or killed.” It’s not a court for on-the-job training, he said.

Levy described himself as fair and reasonable. “Somebody sitting on the bench,” he said, “needs to have calmness, confidence and competence, and be able to make fair decisions, and I think I will bring that to the court.”

He doesn’t disagree, Levy said, with creating the residential programs, because as more and more youths get involved with RTA, there may be more of them coming before the courts.

In evaluating whether to send someone to a program, Levy said, “I would be more inclined to use the facility for individuals who are repeat offenders.” He would look at the seriousness of the charge: Was there an injury? Was there a weapon involved? An assault or a strangulation?

“I’m not sure,” he said, “that detention is appropriate for nonviolent crimes.” It would be important, he said, to look at the youth’s history with the criminal-justice system.


Michael S. Barone

Michael S. Barone is a former police officer and a practicing attorney. He could not be reached before press time; information here is from his campaign literature.

He retired from the Albany Police Department in February after more than 21 years on the job.

Barone is certified as a general-topics instructor for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and was a field training officer. He served as an instructor at the Zone 5 Regional Law Enforcement Training Center and at the City of Albany Police Academy. He taught on topics including search and seizure and juvenile law and procedures. He was a member of the Albany Police Department’s strategic planning and training committee.

Barone was co-chairman of the Albany Police Department's Youth Court Committee and spearheaded the department’s efforts to divert youth from the Criminal Justice System. He has received the Albany Police Department Life-Saving Medal and has various commendations in his personnel file for exceptional duty. He was the lead presenter, in public forums, for the Albany Police Department’s community policing efforts.

Barone is currently an Attorney for Children on the Albany County Family Court Panel. He serves on the executive committee of the criminal-justice section of the New York State Bar Association. He is district representative for the Third Judicial District, which includes seven counties within the State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association's task force on gun violence.

Barone was appointed by the presiding justice of the State of New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department and served from 2014 to 2019 on the Third Department’s committee on character and fitness.

At the request of the Office of Counsel to the Majority of the New York State Assembly, Barone was a presenter at the 2018 legislative continuing legal education program. He presented to members of the state Assembly and state Senate and their staffs on topics including police encounters with the public and the effect the legalization of marijuana will have on law enforcement in New York State.


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