April 26, 2013
Ex-prosecutor running for C’ville judge
Town adding second judge post in response to growing caseload
Longtime area attorney Karen Howe announced Thursday her intention to run for a Cortlandville judgeship opened for the first time since 1977.
An increased caseload led to the town reopening a second part-time judge slot this year to aid the burden placed on current Town Justice Fran Casullo.
Howe, a Republican, resigned from her position as chief assistant district attorney in February in preparation for the campaign. She has worked in the District Attorney’s Office since 1999 after nine years as an assistant public defender in the county.
“These two positions, spanning more than two decades, have provided me with valuable experience in the criminal justice field as well as Family Court,” she said.
Howe has also kept a law office on Port Watson Street for eight years, which she will maintain. She does not handle criminal cases at her practice, she said, only matrimony and family law.
Howe, with hair closely cropped from a recent donation to Locks of Love, said she possesses a unique set of qualifications that make her well-equipped for the job.
“This is one of the busiest town courts in New York state,” said Howe. Cortlandville’s reach has grown considerably, encompassing Polkville and McGraw. “I think I have unique strengths I can add to the area and help congestion in this court.”
Howe said she planned to leave the District Attorney’s Office after she heard last fall the town planned to restore the judge position, and left to avoid any “perceived conflicts.”
She said with the growth of the town has come other unfortunate trends over her 20-plus years practicing law.
“The level of violence in the community and level of drug activity has increased,” Howe said.
Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said the town had been considering adding a second justice position for some time.
“We have been one of only 40 town courts in New York State that does over $1 million in business, and I believe we’re the smallest town out of those,” said Tupper, who added that Cortlandville is one of the few, if not the only, of the 40 with only one judge.
While there is no requirement that a town judge must be of the law profession, Tupper said with the high volume of the caseload and number of trials the town sees, “it almost has to be an attorney.”
He said the salary for the four-year position will be decided when the town puts together the 2014 budget later this year. Casullo’s salary is $57,200.
A Syracuse University College of Law graduate, Howe earned her Juris Doctor in 1989, and was admitted to the New York State Bar Association the next year. She has served as law guardian, which is now known as the attorney for the child, and has been an Article 81 court examiner, working with mentally incapacitated individuals.
Howe estimated that a two-judge system in Cortlandville would work much the same as it does at the County Court level, where judges Julie Campbell and William Ames have separate assigned caseloads.
Howe said she has known Casullo for over 20 years, and that they attended law school about the same time.
While there have been no announced competitors for the seat, Howe suspects she will not run unopposed. While she did not say who, she indicated there has been interest among the Cortland County law circle.
Republican Committee Chairman John Folmer said the other interested party is Cortland attorney David Alexander, who has a law office on Court Street.
“I have not heard of anyone else Republican or Democrat,” he said this morning.
Democratic Committee Chairwoman Sandy Price said she has not yet heard of any definite interest from a challenger.
“There have been casual inquiries, but nothing serious at this time,” she said.
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