DA, City Court judge vie for County Court judge seat
HUDSON – This would not normally be an election year for a County Court judge. But the decision in May of this year by incumbent Judge Paul Czajka to resign with four years left in his term in order to run for district attorney, left the seat open. Now the current district attorney, Beth Cozzolino, is running against Hudson City Court Judge Richard Koweek for the county’s top judicial position.
The county normally has two judges, each elected for a 10-year term. They are chosen by voters in the county but are paid by the state Court System.
Ms. Cozzolino is running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines. Mr. Koweek is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines.
The jurisdiction of County Court judges extends to criminal cases as well as Family Court and Surrogate Court. Columbia County judges are also called at times to hear cases that otherwise would come before state Supreme Court justices.
The rules governing judicial ethics restrict what judges and candidates for judgeships may say in their campaigns. Essentially, they must confine their remarks and advertising to their own qualifications and backgrounds and not discuss those of their opponents.
Both the candidates for county judge have deep roots in the county. Each is married and has raised children here. Both are experienced lawyers. Ms. Cozzolino and Mr. Koweek recently spoke with The Columbia Paper recently about the position in separate interviews.
Ms. Cozzolino has been the county’s district attorney for the last 16 years and was an assistant DA when Mr. Czajka was district attorney. She has been a trial attorney for 26 years and started out in private practice. She has practiced in Family Court and was for a time an assistant public defender.
She says her current job involves “high stakes” trials for felonies including murder and rape, and that felony trial experience is an important asset for a county judge, because criminal cases are “the bulk of the work” in that position.
She said a county judge must know the law and “grasp of the rules of courtroom procedure.” In addition, she said, a trial judge must have the ability to make good decisions based on the facts and the law. She says in her current position as DA, that is something she must do every day.
Ms. Cozzolino has not received a rating from the state Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the Third Department, which includes Columbia County.
Candidates decide on an individual basis whether to fill out the commission’s questionnaire, and the ratings are only advisory.
In response to a question about the commission, Ms. Cozzolino said, “The voters of Columbia County are going to decide who the most qualified candidate is.”
Mr. Koweek said the legal community refers to the position of County Court judge as a “multi-hat” job because of the many duties in different courts. He describes the Hudson City Court as “a high-volume court with a variety of cases.” He said handled felony cases early in his career as an assistant district attorney.
His city judge position is not full-time and he also maintains a private practice.
Mr. Koweek, who has practiced law for 32 years, said the duties of county Court judge are split roughly 40% on criminal cases, 40% in Family Court and 20% on “other matters.”
Based on his experience as a lawyer, he said, “I think I’m well prepared to do it all.”
Discussing the role of sentencing, Mr. Koweek said that as a judge, “I come in with a blank slate and consider the relevant issues as they’re presented to me.” He said that because judges receive a sentencing recommendation on any criminal facing more than 180 days in jail or prison, “I’m prepared to listen and I’m prepared to bring the hammer down,” when that’s appropriate.
He said that in his court all parties are “treated with respect and dignity” and that he would continue that policy if elected county judge.
Mr.Koweek has been rated “Qualified” by the state Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the Third Department.
His campaign website is www.judgekoweek.com.