New Paltz Town Justice Jonathan Katz is facing Celeste Tesoriero for his re-election bid for the position.
Katz, 62, has been serving as Town Justice for 22 years. Katz has experience working as an attorney on all sides of family law cases, and since 1982 has managed a solo practice that focuses heavily on matters concerning divorce, custody and child support litigation.
Katz has received the support of the New Paltz Democratic Committee after having collected enough signatures to be listed under the Democratic line. He was unopposed at this point in time, therefore he will appear on the Democratic and Independence lines on the ballot.
“Judge Katz has clearly been doing a great job, after having been reelected so many times,” said New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez. “He keeps politics out of the court, he is an extremely ethical guy.”
A resident of New Paltz since 1987, Katz and his wife Nancy have two children. Katz attended the University of Wisconsin in 1979, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and political science before earning his law degree from Syracuse University in 1982.
“I have been one of New Paltz’s Town Justices since 1995,” Katz said. “During those 22 years, I have earned a reputation for fairly treating everyone who has been before me. I have served our community well and I would like to continue to do so.”
Katz is most well-known for his dismissal of charges against former New Paltz Mayor Jason West in 2004. As a result of West presiding at the weddings of more than two dozen same-sex couples in 2004, West had faced 19 misdemeanor criminal charges of fines or up to a year in jail.
According to an article published in The Washington Post at the time of the case, Katz dismissed these charges against West on the “basis of the state failing to show it has a legitimate interest in banning same-sex weddings and ruled that prosecutors failed to prove the law New Paltz Mayor Jason West was charged with violating was constitutional.”
Challenger Tesoriero, 30, is a registered Democrat who will be running on the Green Party Line.
Tesoriero is the founder of the New Paltz Landlord-Tenant Union and maintains her own private practice as a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant issues.
Tesoriero has taken issue with the baseline court fines that are charged to a defendent being summoned to court.
These fines are equal to all who are summoned to court, regardless of their income, a practice Tesoriero says reflects a more conservative ideology than a Democratic one.
To mitigate this, Tesoriero said that the New Paltz Court system should allow defendants to have access to a plea bargain online, rather than only having the ability to plead guilty.
“There are no female judges and if you go to court there are often no female lawyers there either,” said Tesoriero. “I think in a town that’s close to 60 percent female, the fact that we have only male judges and government court attorneys is upsetting.”
In Tesoriero’s opinion, there is a presumption from judges tending to believe that everything a police officer says is true and everything a defendant says is untrue. She referred to research concerning the police quota system in New York from 2015-2016, which, according to Tesoriero, illustrates the idea that defendants have a reason to lie and police are impartial.
“But now research has shown that police aren’t impartial and often their job and promotions are tied to issuing tickets,” said Tesoriero. “We have to use this new research in evaluating cases.”
In response to Tesoriero’s comments regarding Katz as “more conservative than Steve Bannon,” Katz said Tesoriero has made unfounded claims, and she appears to be misguided.
“My opponent’s assertion is baseless and it is unbecoming of a judicial candidate,” said Katz. “New Paltz is a progressive community that has chosen to elect me for 22 years.”
Starting in January 2018, the winner of the Nov. 7 election will serve a four-year term.