Three can­di­dates seek­ing to be­come Sur­ro­gate’s Court judge

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ariél Zangla azangla@free­manon­line.com ArielAtFree­man on Twit­ter

KINGSTON, N.Y. >> Three can­di­dates, all of whom are at­tor­neys, will ap­pear on the bal­lot next month in the race for Ul­ster County Sur­ro­gate’s Court judge.

Sharon Graff is run­ning on the Work­ing Fam­i­lies, Women’s Equal­ity and Green party lines dur­ing the Nov. 8 elec­tion, while Pe­ter Mat­era will be on the Repub­li­can, Conser- va­tive, In­de­pen­dence and Re­form lines, and Sara Mc- Ginty will be on the Demo­cratic Party line. The can­di­dates each seek to re­place Ul­ster County Sur­ro­gate’s Court Judge Mary Work.

The Sur­ro­gate’s Court judge serves a 10-year term. Sur­ro­gate’s Court han­dles mat­ters in­volv­ing es­tates, wills, trusts, guardian­ships and adop­tions.

Graff, 45, was the only can­di­date of the three who did not re­ceive a rat­ing from the In­de­pen­dent Ju­di­cial Elec­tion Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sions for the Third Ju­di­cial Depart­ment. The in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion an­nounced its rat­ings in a press re­lease Oct. 5, giv­ing Mat­era a “qual­i­fied” rat­ing, while list­ing McGinty as “not qual­i­fied.”

Ju­di­cial can­di­dates are rated by the com­mis­sion as highly qual­i­fied, qual­i­fied or not qual­i­fied.

On Wednes­day, Graff said the rat­ing is a “sig­nif­i­cant thing,” but it is a vol­un­tary process. She said it in­volves a lengthy ap­pli­ca­tion process that is due in mid-Au­gust. At that time, she was un­der some “pretty sig­nif­i­cant dead­lines” with cases for her pri­vate law prac­tice in Kingston, Graff said.

“It was a mat­ter of time,” Graff said. She said she has re­quested a rat­ing from the Ul­ster County Bar As­so­ci­a­tion.

On Tues­day, McGinty had said she could not pub­licly spec­u­late on the com­mis­sion’s rat­ing for her. She en­cour­aged vot­ers in­stead to visit her web­site and judge her qualifications for them­selves.

McGinty could not be reached Wednes­day to de­ter­mine if she thought the com­mis­sion’s rat­ing had any­thing to do with a 2008 pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct charge.

In June 2008, McGinty was found guilty of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct con­cern­ing book­keep­ing prac­tices by the state Com­mit­tee on Pro­fes­sional Stan­dards, an arm of the state Supreme Court’s Ap­pel­late Divi­sion. At the time, the five-judge ap­pel­late panel stayed its penalty of a one-year sus­pen­sion on the con­di­tion McGinty sub­mit to the com­mit­tee a quar­terly re­port by a cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant show­ing she main­tained her es­crow ac­count prop­erly.

The panel’s de­ci­sion did not sug­gest McGinty did any­thing un­to­ward or crim­i­nal, but had par­tic­i­pated in “bad book­keep­ing” prac­tices. It later lifted the sus­pen­sion.

Graff, who re­ceived the Ul­ster County Demo­cratic Com­mit­tee nom­i­na­tion but lost a pri­mary chal­lenge to McGinty, said she never brought up the pro­fes­sional con­duct charge dur­ing the pri­maries.

“I chose to run a very pos­i­tive cam­paign,” Graff said. She added that she wanted to fo­cus on her own strengths and what she would bring to the bench if elected. Graff also said she has spent 18 years be­ing an ad­vo­cate in court to make sure the law is ap­plied fairly and peo­ple’s rights are pro­tected. She added that she has a true pas­sion for the law and cares about peo­ple.

In her pri­vate prac­tice, Graff said her fo­cus is on civil lit­i­ga­tion. That work deals with just about ev­ery type of case the Sur­ro­gate’s Court han­dles, she said. Graff added that, in Ul­ster County, the Sur­ro­gate’s judge is typ­i­cally ap­pointed an act­ing Supreme Court judge after two years. That po­si­tion deals with civil cases as well, she said.

Graff, who lives in Rosendale, has han­dled cases in­volv­ing a num­ber of le­gal is­sues such as fidu­ciary duty, trust and cor­po­rate ac­count­ing, real es­tate, draft­ing wills, con­tract dis­putes and mort­gage fore­clo­sures.

Mat­era, 55, is a town of Eso­pus res­i­dent who has been a part-time Ul­ster County as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney for 29 years. He has also spent 30 years in pri­vate prac­tice, con­cen­trat­ing on wills and es­tates, real prop­erty, com­mer­cial and other lit­i­ga­tion. Mat­era pre­vi­ously served as an Ul­ster County as­sis­tant pub­lic de­fender.

Mat­era has also had sev­eral ap­point­ments as a guardian ad litem, rep­re­sent­ing peo­ple in Sur­ro­gate’s Court who can­not speak for them­selves. He said he is very pleased judges have sought to use him in that ca­pac­ity.

Mat­era has also said he has prac­ticed in vir­tu­ally ev­ery court in Ul­ster County, has ar­gued cases at the state ap­pel­late level and is li­censed to prac­tice in fed­eral court in New York

state’s eastern and south­ern dis­tricts.

McGinty, 58, served as Rosendale town jus­tice for eight years and, in 2015, filled a six-month va­cancy. She also has served as a hear­ing of­fi­cer for the Kingston Hous­ing Au­thor­ity since 2010.

Ad­di­tion­ally, McGinty main­tains a law of­fice in Rosendale, fo­cus­ing largely on elder law, wills, trusts and es­tate ad­min­is­tra­tion. She fre­quently lec­tures on is­sues of con­cern to se­nior cit­i­zens and their fam­i­lies and on Sur­ro­gate’s Court lit­i­ga­tion and es­tate plan­ning.

McGinty said she has spent two decades work­ing in Sur­ro­gate’s Court, rep­re­sent­ing fam­i­lies and guid­ing them through the court process.

McGinty

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