Letter: Todd’s Candidacy for Judge Poses Conflict of Interest

Dear Editor:

Much has been written recently about the election for the Oswego County Court Judge position this autumn. I encourage voters to realize and seriously consider the issue of a potential conflict of interest. I believe that the conflict will occur if Donald Todd is elected to the County Judge position in November, and when his brother, Reuel (“Mo)” Todd is re-elected as Oswego County Sheriff. It seems, based on a recent ruling, I could be correct.

The New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics has addressed a similar situation and ruled on such on January 28, 2010. In that situation, a judge’s close relative was in charge of the road patrol division of the sheriff’s department, in the same county where the judge presided. The ethics panel determined that the judge must disqualify himself in all cases where his relative, the division head of the road patrol, was involved. Also, as well as in any cases where officers are subject to the relative’s supervision appear. The committee went on to say that if the need for disqualification became so frequent that it interferes with the judge’s ability to properly perform his judicial duties, he may not continue to hold judicial office. All of this can be found in Opinion 09-242, available on-line at www.nycourts.gov/ip/judicialethics/opinions/09-242.

Following, I would like to paraphrase a famous American from one of his 4th of July speeches prior to his being elected President of the United States. “It is incumbent on us here today so to act throughout our lives as to leave our children a heritage, for which we will receive their blessing and not their curse. If you fail to work in public life for honesty and uprightness and virtue, if you condone vice because the influential man is powerful and smart, or if you in any other way cast your weight into the scales in favor of evil, you are just so far corrupting and making less valuable the birthright of your children….We must never exercise our rights either thoughtlessly or wickedly, we can only preserve them in one possible way, by making the proper use of them.” These words were spoken by a future Republican President; Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Todd seems to downplay the significance of this conflict issue, are these then, the rationalizations of an influential, powerful, smart man? The issue is, however, compounded by the fact that, if elected judge, he cannot preside over cases involving people who he previously prosecuted. I imagine that he has handled hundreds of cases during his employment in the District Attorney’s Office. Therefore, with the high degree of repeat offenders involved in criminal cases, there will be a high number of potential cases that he will not be able to handle as well.

Do the good voters of Oswego County want to elect a person who effectively cannot serve? Will there be legal challenges to a Todd judgeship? Are we to continue the political tradition of rewarding party loyalty above all else? Good politics does not necessarily translate into good judgeships—I urge all voters to consider the above noted issues as they prepare to cast their ballots this fall. Thank you very much.

Kenneth R. Stevens