Ticket and tax warrants: Race for judge heats up

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Christine Napierski, right, talks with a supporter at a pep rally July 18 at Pine Haven Country Club. Napierski wants to stay in the town justice position to which she was appointed in April, but the Guilderland Democratic committee has endorsed Bryan Clenahan instead. ​

GUILDERLAND — As the July 26 Democratic caucus for town justice approaches, supporters of Bryan Clenahan and supporters of Christine Napierski are both raising problems with the competing candidate.

Democratic committee member Betty Head has a second full-page paid ad in The Enterprise this week; this one focuses on Napierski not showing up in court when she had a speeding ticket, ultimately leading to the suspension of her license.

Also this week, Napierski’s father and partner in a law firm, Eugene Napierski, alerted The Enterprise to warrants brought against Clenahan by the state department of taxation and finance, in the years 2003, 2013, and 2015.

In May, the Guilderland Town Board unanimously appointed Christine Napierski to a post on the bench left vacant by Richard Sherwood after he was arrested on felony fraud charges. Sherwood has since pleaded guilty to working with another trust manager to steal more than $11 million.

In June, two months after she was selected by the town board over 13 other candidates including Clenahan, Napierski was passed over for the nomination by Guilderland’s Democratic Committee. She decided to run anyway, securing the Conservative line and campaigning for the Democratic line.

Clenahan’s tax warrants

Three warrants and a judgment against Clenahan are posted on the website of the Albany County Clerk’s office.

Clenahan said on Wednesday that the warrants resulted from “honest mistakes” he made in filling out his tax returns on his own — mistakes about deductibility of interest on student loans. He now uses a tax professional to help with his taxes, he said.

Warrants and judgments against him are:

— Judgment in Albany City Court in favor of Citibank, dated 2001, for $6,008.33. The document notes that this was satisfied. Clenahan said that this was an “old credit card bill” that he took care of;

— New York State Department of Taxation and Finance tax warrant dated 2003, amount not listed. Clenahan said he does not remember this, but that he would have researched his calculations and addressed it when he learned about it;

— New York State Department of Taxation and Finance tax warrant dated 2013, for $2,600.18. This was addressed and vacated on Nov. 18, 2014; and

— New York State Department of Taxation and Finance tax warrant dated 2015, for $366.55. This was satisfied on Oct. 5, 2016.

Clenahan said on Wednesday that he paid both the $2,600.18 and the $366.55.

Spokesman James Gazzale of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance confirmed that Clenahan now has a zero outstanding balance.

Clenahan said that he made “a couple of honest mistakes about deductions.” He said that his mistakes had been in the amount of student-loan interest that he was eligible to deduct.

Clenahan said that he and his wife recently went through a mortgage application process to buy a home on Walden’s Pond Road and that during that process he was informed by his bank that these warrants were still listed, at the time, on the Albany County Clerk’s website as outstanding.

He received paperwork from that department stating that they had been resolved, and submitted it, he says, to both his bank and the chairman of the Guilderland Democratic Committee.

The reason he gave the paperwork to the committee’s chairman, Jacob Crawford, was, he said, because all the candidates who sought the committee’s endorsement in May were asked, in a candidate questionnaire, about any potential issues that could come up. So when the bank brought up the issue of these warrants, he said, “I wanted to be completely up front.”

Asked if he had ignored the state’s repeated requests for payment until the department finally filed tax warrants, Clenahan said that he had not.

Clenahan said he did not recall when he became aware of the state’s request for payment, but that, when he did, he reviewed his math, and that he “did more work, did more research, tried to verify that it was correct, and when it was, I addressed it.”

Gazzale was asked if the department lets taxpayers know about their outstanding debts before filing a tax warrant.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Filing a warrant is always the last resort,” Gazzale continued. “Long before it comes to that, we’re in communication with the taxpayer to let them know that they have an outstanding balance.”

The department works with the taxpayer, Gazzale said, to try to find a way to resolve the debt as soon as possible, before ever filing a warrant.

Gazzale said he could not comment on individual cases, but said that, in general, the way the department communicates is, “Initially via mail, and then we follow up with phone calls as well, sometimes field visits.”

Clenahan has lived at the same address, in Woodlake Apartments, for more than 10 years.

“I do not recall those communications,” Clenahan said.

Clenahan emphasized that he was now using an accountant and that he had learned “that I’m a much better attorney than mathematician.”

Clenahan is the son-in-law of one of the town’s two other justices, Denise Randall. Guilderland’s third judge is John Bailey.

Napierski’s speeding ticket

Napierski failed to resolve a speeding ticket that she got last November and had her driver’s license suspended in March. The license was reinstated in June, according to Lisa Koumjian, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Christine Napierski went public with situation in a July 12 letter to the Enterprise editor, “I regret missing my court date for a speeding ticket.”

Eugene Napierski told The Enterprise on Wednesday that his daughter did not drive while her license was suspended, but that he and other relatives drove her. When The Enterprise asked Napierski herself if she had driven when her license was suspended, she did not answer.

Christine Napierski wrote in her letter that her failure to appear in court shows that she is “not a perfect person” and also helps her be a better judge because she understands “the fallibility of the people who appear before me.”

In this week’s Enterprise, Democrat Donald Csaposs has a letter to the editor, “Honesty matters in public office,” in which he writes, “When I learned that Ms. Napierski had a suspended driver’s license at the time that she was being interviewed and being asked about such availability, and that she did not disclose at that time that she had a suspended driver’s license, I immediately lost any sympathy for her cause.”

Napierski responded, “When I interviewed for the Town Justice position I wasn’t thinking about the speeding ticket that I received (while exiting the Thruway) and did not think a traffic matter, which is not a crime or even a misdemeanor and which most people experience at some point in life, needed to be discussed.

“Once I was hired, I did bring it to the attention of the Town Court and the judges recused themselves and the matter was transferred out of Guilderland which caused additional delay in getting it resolved. Like I said before, I am embarrassed about the matter but believe it is being publicized at this time to try and distract the voters from my qualifications and experience and to embarrass and intimidate me from running for election.”

Also in this week’s Enterprise, Head has an ad with a cartoon of a speeding car — the license says “CN” — and a personified ticket running behind it.

The ad copy quotes at length from the Administrative Rules of the Unified Court System and Uniform Rules of the Trial Courts on how a judge should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and “personally observe those standards” and also that “a judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

The ad then asks a series of questions and calls for Napierski to remove herself from the race.

The Enterprise called Denise Randall Wednesday night in hopes of getting a response to allegations made by Napierski’s husband and father on Wednesday evening that the Guilderland court had delayed paperwork needed to clear up Napierski’s ticket.

When she learned that the topic was the race for the judgeship, Randall said she could not comment, and in fact could not even entertain any inquiries. “No, no, don’t tell me,” she said, cutting off any questions.

“It would be absolutely improper for either myself or Judge Bailey to make any comment,” she said.

“If it’s an article on something specific,” Randall said, “I think I would be treading where the commission wouldn’t want me to tread.”

Randall telephoned The Enterprise early Thursday morning to say she had spoken with Judge Bailey — both are Democrats — and he had suggested that she remind The Enterprise that court records are public and can be viewed by anyone until the point that they become sealed.

According to records at the Guilderland Town Court that The Enterprise then retrieved and to spokespeople from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles:

— Napierski was ticketed by New York State Police on Nov. 3 for driving 72 miles per hour in a zone for 55 on Interstate-890 and was to appear in court on Nov. 27 or, if she wanted to plead guilty, mail in her response by that date.

— If a ticket remains unanswered 60 days from the date it was issued, the court can contact the DMV, and a Notice of Impending Suspension will be generated. This notice gives a motorist 37 days to answer the ticket before the suspension will take effect. The motorist must contact the court directly to answer the ticket, according to Pete Bucci of the state DMV.

— Guilderland Town Justice Richard Sherwood was arrested by the New York State Attorney General’s Office on Feb. 23, charged with stealing millions from trusts he oversaw in his work as a private attorney; he subsequently resigned from his judicial post.  

— Napierski’s driver’s license was suspended March 22.

— Napierski was appointed town justice on April 17.

— A letter from Randall and Bailey, stating that they needed to recuse themselves, since Napierski was the new town judge in their court, was dated May 4.  

— A letter from the Albany County District Attorney’s Office to Judge Peter Lynch of Albany County Court, requesting that the case be moved from Guilderland to any adjoining court, was dated May 10; the letter requested that the case be heard on May 11 or as soon as possible afterward.

— Lynch signed the order, moving the case, on June 5. “Once I get the order transferring it,” said clerk Jennifer Stephens of the Guilderland Town Court, “then I can transfer the case. We can’t transfer it till a superior judge signs off.” Stephens noted that the order was faxed to the court in Guilderland on June 8.

—Napierski’s license was reinstated on June 13.

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.