Oct. 30—LOWVILLE — On Nov. 8, Lewis County voters will make a decision that will impact the next 10 years of their lives in one way or another: which of two well-qualified candidates will preside over the county court — consisting of criminal and drug courts — family and surrogate courts as judge.
Unlike Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties which have separate judges for each of those benches, Lewis' small population — about 26,600 at the last census — means that one judge presides over all three. It is the only county in the Fifth Judicial District with this system.
DANIEL R. KING
Job: County Judge
Roots: Grew up in Lowville
Family: Wife, Rebecca; three children
Education: Lowville Academy High School
St. John Fisher College
Albany Law School
PARTY AFFILIATION: — Registered Republican — Ballot lines: Republican, Conservative
Mr. King is the current Lewis County judge, elected in 2012.
The first 20 years of his career prior to becoming judge, beginning in 1992, were spent working as a private attorney in a number of firms in Lowville, becoming a partner in one and eventually starting his own firm.
During those years, he served as a public defender and an assistant public defender.
He said he represented clients in criminal, family and surrogate courts.
WHY BE JUDGE?
Originally, Mr. King said he wanted to become judge to take his service to the community to the next level.
"I think I've earned my reelection. I think I've worked hard for 10 years and prior to that I worked hard for 20 years," Mr. King said. "I am a judge and I love it. I love going to work every day."
APPROACH ON THE BENCH
Although a number of people he represented during his years as an attorney have appeared in criminal and family courts since he has been on the bench, Mr. King said he has "no difficulty in being fair and impartial," always disclosing those connections and assuring defendants he is "here to take what has been proven by evidence and decide only then."
Knowing the backstory for defendants has, in some instances, made him more compassionate to a degree but that does not influence his performance, he said.
"I am compassionate but as judge, I'm the punisher. Don't confuse compassion for leniency," he said, but he does not enjoy putting someone in jail or having to remove a child from a parent.
ANY IMPROVEMENTS TO BE MADE?
"No, at this point I believe that after the last 10 years, we're very efficient in what we do. It's dictated a lot by the Fifth District. I think we have a very smooth working machine in all of the three courts I preside over plus Drug Court as well."
ON THE COURTS' SCHEDULES
Mr. King said the current days scheduled for the Family and Criminal courts were established before he took office. He has made no changes because it has worked well.
"I average about 1,000 Family Court cases a year and I average about 100 County Court cases a year, so Family Court is by far my busiest court," he said, adding that the clerks for each work together to create schedules.
In the past year, Mr. King said he has stopped "doing conferences" in the criminal court which would involve sometimes lengthy discussions between the prosecution and the defense with the judge, following the lead of other county courts, because it "had become counterproductive."
ON NEW BAIL RULES' IMPACT
"I am finding, based upon what I've seen in court... defendants who are released under the new bail rules coming back to me being charged with other crimes. In terms of a percentage — I can't give you a percentage," he said.
He noted that there are also people released on bail that are charged with new crimes while their case is going through the court process.
"That's always been an issue."
WHAT SETS HIM APART
"I have spent my entire career serving this community and I am the only candidate with 30 years of experience and the only candidate with experience in criminal, family and surrogate courts even before being judge."
CALEB J. PETZOLDT
Job: Assistant District Attorney
Residence: Beaver Falls
Roots: Grew up on a farm in Beaver Falls
Family: Wife, Courtney; two children
Education: Beaver River High School
University of North Florida
Georgetown University School of Law
PARTY AFFILIATION — Not registered to a party
"I firmly believe this is a non-partisan position. If I'm elected and I do the job perfectly then nobody will know whether I'm a Republican or Democrat. That's my intention." — Ballot lines: Independent and Democrat
Last year, Mr. Petzoldt returned to the county to again fill an open assistant district attorney (ADA) position making it possible to return "home" to serve the community sooner than expected. He and his wife are in the process of moving from Baldwinsville back to Beaver Falls.
Mr. Petzoldt has been a prosecutor for most of his career excepting a period working on family court cases with Hisock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse after completing law school, before he was hired as the ADA for Lewis County the first time in 2008.
Mr. Petzoldt became an assistant U.S. attorney, Western District of New York, in 2014, prosecuting drug trafficking and gang-related organized crime cases and joined the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office Violent Felony Unit in 2016, where he earned a promotion to bureau chief of the investigation unit.
Although his experience in family court is limited and he has no surrogate court experience, Mr. Petzoldt said he is confident his investigative skills and ability to adapt and learn new areas of law will help him make well-informed decisions as he gains experience.
WHY BE JUDGE?
The candidate said serving his home county for many years and seeing how things are done in other courts Mr. Petzoldt has been planning to run for judge this year for some time. He wants to improve the efficiency of the county's justice system in all courts, especially in criminal court, by ensuring cases get can go through the court process in no more than six months instead of a year or two, leaving defendants not held on bail under the new state rules to have less time to commit more crimes.
He said expediting cases will also better serve crime victims.
THE CHANGES HE WILL MAKE
If he becomes judge, Mr. Petzoldt intends to work with clerks to re-work the schedules for all three courts and increase Drug Court, the addiction treatment court, from twice monthly to weekly and work to improve how family court cases move through the system.
"We're not going to hold (criminal) court only two times a month, we're going to have it every day or very nearly every day" to prevent "cases piling up" and backlogging.
Mr. Petzoldt said he will also state his reasons for sentences he gives on the record in criminal court "because ultimately the public has a right to know what's going on in a jurist's mind."
WHAT SETS HIM APART
Because he is a "local" that has spent time out of the area, he can offer a "fresh perspective (ensuring) everyone goes into court on equal footing."
"I have experience through more that 50 courts throughout New York State, so I've been before dozens and dozens of judges... I've been in courtrooms that run extremely efficiently and some that are not. I've been paying attention and I want to emulate what I saw in those judges that were so respectable and efficient and I want to incorporate that... because I'm extremely familiar with the courts here and what is a reasonable outcome for the citizens of Lewis County."