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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2011
GOP’s Koff Challenges Dems’ Judge Bailey
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Judge John Bailey, one of two Democrats currently on the town bench, is being challenged by Republican Howard Koff. Both are attorneys and both are long-time Guilderland residents.
Bailey is also being endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties. When he was elected in 2003, he was the first Democrat to serve as town justice in over 200 years.
Bailey graduated from the University at Albany and Albany Law School, and is an attorney at Bailey, Kelleher, and Johnson, P.C.
The biggest problem facing local courts, said Bailey, is overcrowding. Guilderland is the third busiest criminal court in Albany County.
“We handle a very large amount of finger-printable offenses,” said Bailey, the majority of which involve substance abuse or domestic violence. There was a time when the court met two evenings a week, on Monday and Thursday nights, but, Bailey said, the court is now conducting hearings throughout the week and during daylight hours.
“I think the citizens of Guilderland would be shocked by the amount of criminal activity,” he said. The court is attempting to develop strategies to deal with repeat offenders, because they involve police time, jail time, and probation officers, all of which result in increased costs.
“One of our real focuses has been to try to deal with the people who are likely to repeat and to develop methods to get them off a bad path onto a good path,” said Bailey. He said he has a heavy commitment to community service, because not only does it benefit taxpayers, it exposes people, especially youth, to positive lifestyles.
Occasionally, said Bailey, he sends individuals to Albany County’s jail to show them where they might be headed.
Other times, for a crime like petit larceny, a fine is a sufficient sentence.
“Sometimes it’s youngsters and you can tell they made a terrible mistake and you can tell they won’t repeat, Bailey said. “Other times, you’re not sure, and then I think scrubbing toilet bowls and urinals and bedpans at a nursing home is a pretty good deterrent.”
Bailey said that, out campaigning and talking to residents, he gets the feeling that there is a misunderstanding about the local courts.
“There really are a lot of trials,” he said. The budget, he said, is lean, and there are not many areas where it could be reduced, though holding hearings during daytime hours helps because it reduces the amount of overtime hours in both the court and police departments.
“There is an awful lot of behind-the-scenes work that absolutely has to be done, and I don’t know how we could really save any more money than we have,” said Bailey. “We’ve been very mindful of the economic times, and we’re trying to do our part.”
“I’ve been around the block; I think I have some experience,” concluded Bailey. “There is nothing more important than presiding fairly over a trial and that’s what I have done for the 30 years of my career.”
Howard Koff, a 30-year town resident, has over 45 years of experience as a tax attorney. He worked for the United States Department of Justice for four years, in the tax department, during the 1960s. He spent a number of years working as a tax counsel for large corporations, and was a partner in a large tax firm in Rochester. He has been with his own firm for the past 30 years.
“The overcrowding in the court is a serious problem, and the consideration of a third judge would be a big cost to the taxpayers,” said Koff. His idea for reducing the crowds would be to settle most cases outside of the courtroom, before they ever get to a judge.
“The town council and defendant’s representatives could try to settle it, and then the police wouldn’t have to appear either,” Koff said. Some cases could even be settled over the phone.
“Keep the criminal trials in the court, because 200 cases a night is Mission Impossible. You can’t dispense justice that way,” said Koff.
He said he would look at each case on an individual basis, and at the full range of circumstances, but does believe in prevention over punishment.
“Some things, like alcohol and substance abuse, are diseases, and we should have alternate programs in place to help,” Koff said. At Crossgates Mall, where most of the town’s petit larceny is committed, prevention would entail putting more “boots to the ground,” he said. More security could help control crime at the shopping center.
Koff said one of his main reasons for running for town judge is the fact that the town needs a two-party system.
“It used to be all Republican and now it’s all Democrat, and that doesn’t work anywhere in the world,” Koff concluded. “You need competition and two viable parties, everyone wins when you have that.”