Three candidates seeking to become Surrogate’s Court judge
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.