Sherman, Donati vie to be Knox judge

KNOX — Two candidates are vying for a judgeship in Knox as James Corigliano is not seeking a third term.

A retired Guilderland music teacher, Corigliano was appointed to fill a vacancy and then won the next election, in 2011. He was unopposed in 2015, running on the Democratic and Independence party lines.

Republican Bonnie Donati is running for the fourth time to fill the post, and Dana Sherman, an Independence Party member, is making his first run for judge.

Donati also has the Conservative and Independence lines. Sherman is running solely on the Unify Knox line.

The candidates were asked about their relevant background, goals, and judicial philosophy. They were also asked for their views on access to court records and sentencing with community service.

Finally, they were asked how they might handle an arrest for less than 2 grams of marijuana when the Albany County district attorney has said he won’t prosecute such cases, and, with many people in the small town knowing them, at what point would they recuse themselves to avoid a conflict of interest.

Knox has two judges, and the post carries a four-year term.

Dana Sherman

If Dana Sherman is elected town judge, he’d like to use skills he’s honed in conflict resolution.

Sherman, 74, said, “I served 16 years on the town board, and 15 years as the chairman of the board of fire commissioners. I accomplished everything I wanted on both,” he said, noting fire ponds and two new trucks for the volunteer department.

“Now I want to do something different,” he said. “I’ve always been a strong mediator.”

Sherman went on, “My boys are all in law enforcement. I taught in prison for 25 years. I have a good understanding of both sides of the scales.”

Sherman taught at a facility in Claverack (Columbia county) run now by the Office of Children and Family Services. “It was the most maximum secure prison in the United States for adjudicated youth,” said Sherman.

He taught prisoners, ages 16 to 21, math, building trades, and computer programming.

“They can only make you teach one thing outside of your certification,” he said. But Sherman “jumped in” and volunteered to teach other classes, in life skills.

“What are you going to do when you get out?” was the central question he wanted to answer for his students.

Sherman and another teacher, he said, started a small business doing conflict resolution. “We would go in as a teachers’ in-service [training] and teach others how to do it,” Sherman said.

He described the essence of conflict resolution this way: “You have two people that don’t want to change their minds. You find out what they can agree on.”

Sherman said he “definitely would” apply those principles in Knox Town Court. He gave an example from his own experience where he had paid a contractor to put in a pool. “He didn’t put it in right,” said Sherman.

The matter ended up in small claims court in Colonie. “The judge told us to go out in the hall to settle it,” recalled Sherman. “I had all the facts and figures, but we couldn’t agree. Finally the judge made an arbitrary decision. Luckily, it was in my favor.”

Sherman concluded of conflict resolution that works, “Both sides have to agree and sign a piece of paper. Once they sign, they’re good at following through. Both sides have influence,” he said, so both sides buy in to the solution.

Sherman said he would “definitely” recuse himself if a family member came before him on the bench. 

“But say there’s a property dispute on my road, if it didn’t involve me, I’d take it on, “ said Sherman. “You want to make certain your knowledge of the person wouldn’t influence you.”

On an unlawful-possession-of marijuana charge, of less than 2 grams, Sherman said, “The sheriff is still enforcing the law. Until the law is changed, you still have to enforce it if it’s on the books.”

He went on, “But, if there’s a situation where it could really, really affect someone, say a single mother with kids, that might come into it,” he said, noting he’d decide on a case-by-case basis.

Sherman said he’d be open to sentencing with community service. He noted contributing to the fire company or as a school aid wouldn’t be appropriate because of required training.

“Helping out with cleaning the town park” might be a possibility, Sherman said.

On court records, Sherman said, “The ones that are supposed to be accessible, I’d make them accessible.”

Sherman said the reason he’s running solely on the Unify Knox line is because he waited too long to approach the leaders of major parties in Knox. “I would have liked to run on all the parties,” he said. “This was the last one.”

The Unify Knox Party is actually an independent body rather than a political party. An independent body refers to any group of voters who nominate a candidate to run for office. Designating petitions for political parties had to be filed in April with the county board of elections; filing dates to run with an independent party were due in May.

Sherman concluded, “I’m definitely a law-and-order guy.”

He went on, “I have knowledge of both sides of the system. I see what happens when people have to go to jail.”

Bonnie Donati

Bonnie Donati has an extensive legal background, which she believes would serve her well as a town justice.

“The law is supposed to protect you and teach you as well as punish you,” Donati said, succinctly stating her judicial philosophy.

Donati was born in Brooklyn. She lived in Knox during the 1980s, moved back to New York City for 15 years, and returned to Knox in 1997 after the death of her husband, Alfred Donati Jr., who had been a New York State Supreme Court judge.

Donati is a paralegal and had worked as a legal secretary in the insurance industry. She worked in compliance for the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, and was in charge of former Attorney General Robert Abrams’s archives.

Donati also worked as a “troubleshooter” for the Parking Violations Bureau, she said, and her last job, before she retired, was with the State Insurance Fund.

“Everything I’ve done in my working life has had a legal aspect to it,” said Donati. “As a paralegal, I developed people skills. I did many, many interviews, gathering information for my boss who later became my husband.”

Donati developed a flawless fact-gathering process, she said, when she interviewed prisoners in “The Tombs” where lawyers didn’t go. “I’d write it up for the court-appointed attorneys,” she said.

Throughout her life, Donati said, she has developed “a legal ear,” which she described as “how to listen and keep my opinion and judgement out of the equation.”

Asked her age, Donati said, “I’m a little younger than my opponent.”

She is making her fourth run for Knox town judge, having been defeated in 2007, 2009, and 2011.

“I heard the third time’s a charm, but that’s a lie,” she quipped. Donati continues to run, she said ,because she is qualified and voters need a choice. “I believe in a two-party system,” said Donati, a lifelong Republican.

“It’s deep-rooted,” said Donati of belonging to the GOP. “I come from a long line of Republicans,” she said, noting her father served in the Navy for 30 years.

“My husband was a big-, big, big-time Democrat,” she said. “New York City Democrats are a special breed. Over the years, I was asked to work on Democratic campaigns,” she said. “For him, I would go to the meetings … I didn’t know whether to laugh or take it in.”

Donati said, “I’m a very logical person. You’ve got to build on something. A lot of times, the Democratic Party will have a cause without taking care of underlying issues.”

Donati said she did admire Mario Cuomo as “the best public speaker I’ve heard in my life.” She said, “Even when I disagreed with him, I could understand where he was coming from.”

If she’s elected, Donati said, she would recuse herself if a relative or personal friend came before the bench. “Or if I’ve heard gossip in town, and already know information about the case, I would not want to handle it.”

Asked about someone coming before her who had been arrested with less than two grams of marijuana, Donati said, “If there had been fall out because of possession and I was allowed to make a decision, I would.” 

She added, “I’m not aware of where the jurisdiction would fall.”

On access to court records, Donati said, “I don’t see why public records shouldn’t be accessible.”

She noted that, when she worked for the attorney general, her duties included responding to Freedom Of Information Law requests.

She also said, “Any system is only as good as the people employed in it.”

On community service, Donati said, “I think, especially with young people, community service is an excellent sentence. If elected, I’ll talk to the town supervisor to see if there is any safe activity they could be involved in.”

She went on, “That kind of example can make more of an impression than something more punitive. If parents pay off the fine, what did they learn?” she asked.

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