Rensselaerville's Judge Cooke resigns

RENSSELAERVILLE — One of Rensselaerville’s two town justices has resigned, leaving the town board to decide if it should appoint a replacement before elections next November.

Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury said that Dwight T. Cooke had submitted a letter of resignation to the town. The town board discussed his resignation at a special meeting on Dec. 6.

Lounsbury told The Enterprise earlier this month that the town board has not yet decided on a replacement for Cooke. She herself will be leaving in January after not seeking re-election; Steve Pfleging will take her place.

She said the town board is now faced with three options:

— Appoint a new town justice;

— Allow the New York State Unified Court System to assign a new judge; or

— Have the remaining town justice, Ronald Bates, serve as the sole judge until a second justice is elected next November.

Lounsbury said the town board has not yet decided what option to take.

At the town’s Dec. 14 meeting, Lounsbury said that Cooke had resigned on Nov. 30. She said the town had reviewed an application submitted by Brian Wood, who works for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office as the captain of its Emergency Medical Services division.

The town board had voted in favor of appointing Wood pending the decision from the Judicial Board of Ethics, according to draft minutes of the special meeting on Dec. 6. Councilman Gerald Wood, Brian Wood’s father, abstained. 

Lounsbury said at the meeting that Wood had already been cleared to serve as a judge by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Lounsbury said at the Dec. 14 meeting that Wood’s application was rejected because the Judicial Board of Ethics ruled that Wood could have a conflict of interest as a judge, or at least there would be the perception of a conflict of interest.

She said that in January the board would have to start process of appointing someone. Lounsbury herself will not be part of that process since she did not seek re-election in November.

Lounsbury said that Justice Ronald Bates had agreed to do the work of both town judges, which would mean that he would have to be compensated for doing so. Based on a suggestion from Bates, the town agreed to pay him one-and-a-half times his normal pay until a new judge could be appointed and begin serving.

Because courses to educate incoming judges are offered so sparingly, the board estimated that this might not be until May. Both court clerks would continue serving as scheduled, Lounsbury said.

In the gallery, Marie Dermody, a former town supervisor, asked if the town would save any money by using a state-appointed judge. Lounsbury said the town could do that, but would be paying for a judge who would only be used to attend arraignments, something that Bates had agreed to do.

Lounsbury said the board would begin a process of finding a replacement for Cooke in January.

Cooke, who could not be reached for comment, was elected in 2015, telling The Enterprise that year that he had been asked to run, and was eager to be involved in the town government.

He was raised in Potter Hollow, graduated from Middleburgh High School, and has lived his whole life in town, he said.

Cooke worked in construction before he started working at the Albany County Sheriff’s Office when he was 22. He retired in January, 2015, after working there for 25 years and serving as a lieutenant in the county’s jail. He then returned to working in construction.

Cooke told The Enterprise in 2015 that he wanted to be a fair judge.

“You’ve got to realize, people do make mistakes,” he said, adding that he preferred alternative sentences such as community service to jail time.

“A lot of people who make mistakes shouldn’t be locked up,” he added. “You can pay your debt without being behind bars. It’s a hardship on their family.”

Updated on Dec. 28, 2017: Information about Brian Wood seeking the justice post was added.

Updated on Jan. 2, 2018: Information that Councilman Gerald Wood, Brian Wood’s father, abstained. 


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