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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 5, 2009
Taber runs unopposed for fourth decade on the bench
By Philippa Stasiuk
ALTAMONT Neil Taber is running unopposed for his eighth term as judge on the Fairness Party line. It’s a one-man party he created himself.
When elected, Taber will begin serving his 29th year as a judge, presiding over cases up to misdemeanor level where the maximum sentence can be $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
“I’m running again because I like serving the community and helping to make Altamont a better place to live,” Taber said. “When people are brought to court, younger people especially, I get an opportunity to work with them and get them on a straight path so they don’t get in worse trouble.”
Taber says that, in cases concerning young people, speeding and driving drunk are the two most frequent offenses. “I try not necessarily to punish them the first time,” he said, “but to get them to understand their wayward ways and correct them.”
Taber says he created the name “Fairness Party” because Webster’s dictionary’s defines fairness as justifiable justice. “I’ve always tried to practice that in court and make sure that justice was done,” he said.
The other reason Taber says he is running for re-election is because he is in good enough health to do so. He is 81 years old. However, he said that he has always had excellent court clerks to assist him and, without their help, he would no longer be a judge.
“There’s too much paperwork,” he said, “and I’d feel I wasn’t being paid enough.”
Altamont has two judges; each is paid $4,356 dollars, which is the same yearly salary as the mayor.
In addition to hearing cases, Taber is required to attend training sessions twice a year given by the Judicial Institute and the Officers Court Training Sessions. The sessions cover four to five subjects like driving while intoxicated, vehicle traffic, and domestic violence. At the end of the training, judges must pass exams in order to continue sitting on the bench.
Taber also periodically participates in teleconferences with other village and town judges where legal experts give training and updates on changes in state laws.
Taber is not required to have a law degree to preside over Village Court. He says he began to become familiar with how the court system worked as a part-time police officer for Altamont. He later moved to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department where he worked as a lieutenant on the nightshift at the Voorheesville substation. His law enforcement work was in addition to working full-time on air-conditioning and plumbing for General Electric for 39 years.
Taber left the sheriff’s department when he got his commercial pilot’s license and had the opportunity to fly part-time for the Albany Skydiving Center.
“I got into really ticklish situations as a police officer and I decided flying was less dangerous, although I had my moments of concern,” he said. “The flying job was hours and hours of boredom interlaced with sheer terror.”
One of Taber’s most terrifying moments was when he was ascending with a cabin full of five parachuters and the plane’s battery overheated and acidic fumes filled the plane. He screamed back to the parachuters that they had to jump immediately, scattering them throughout the countryside. Once the parachuters cleared the cabin, fresh air cleared the plane of enough fumes so that Taber was able to breath and land the plane safely. All the parachuters were picked up later, none the worse for wear.
Taber says being a judge has no such nail-biting moments and calls most of the cases “run of the mill.”
He says what perplexes him most in hearing so many cases over the years is what compels people to drink and drive. “I’m not a drinker,” he said. “I don’t drink or smoke. I can’t understand why anyone wants to drink alcoholic beverages and drive. The penalties are so severe and the laws are so strict. It costs them so much money and headaches but people don’t seem to learn.”
With so many cases, Taber says, it’s difficult to think which ones stand out as the most interesting but one comes to mind that he relishes remembering.
“A young lady was accused of not paying enough rent on time, but she needed help from social services,” he said. “I thought at the time that the landlord wasn’t filling out the proper paperwork to help her get Section 8 help, which would help her pay the rent.
“Even though the landlord’s attorney was telling me to sign the eviction, I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to send her and the baby out in the cold in the middle of winter. It turned out the landlord wasn’t helping to get her Section 8. I tried to help somebody and I was successful. She didn’t get evicted.”
Taber is proud that, in 28 years on the bench, he has not had one complaint filed against him, he said.
He says the way his parents raised him prepared him for being a judge. “My father and mother set a good example for me as far as respecting authority and obeying the law,” he said.
Taber also credits his wife’s support. “We met as a blind date and I lucked out,” he said. “She’s always been supportive of everything I want to do. If you have a supportive family, you can set your mind to anything. My only problem with my wife is that she’s too good a cook.”