Former BBA President Aimee Richter is running in the Saugerties Town justice race

June 22, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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With the race for the Saugerties town justice heating up, candidate Aimee Richter is prioritizing empathy, experience, and practical wisdom in her campaign. She is vying for the Working Families line against the incumbent, Stanley O’Dell.

Richter, a seasoned attorney who has spent nearly 30 years specializing in family law, graduated from SUNY Albany with a major in Psychology, and later earned her Law degree from Brooklyn Law School. Her previous roles include serving as the president of the Brooklyn Bar Association and a member of the New York State Bar Association Executive Committee.

In a field that often prioritizes strict interpretations of the law, Richter believes her empathy is an asset. She explained, “It’s a good area to practice in if you have empathy for people.” As an attorney, she has had to tread the line between the letter of the law and empathetic judgment – an experience she deems invaluable for judges.

Richter’s commitment to justice is mirrored in her support for initiatives that lean towards progressiveness and empathy. She praises the Saugerties Police “Lights On” program, which offers vouchers for equipment repair instead of issuing tickets. “Maybe someone can’t afford to fix their broken taillight,” she says, highlighting how this program not only resolves the issue but also ensures safer roads.

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Regarding the suggestion of incorporating social workers or psychologists into scenarios traditionally handled by the police, Richter argues for the need for professional presence during tense situations. However, she does not dismiss the idea of having professionals who are trained to de-escalate such situations.

On the New York bail reform law, which allows defendants to be released without cash bail, Richter endorses the judges’ increased discretion. She maintains that while the law was meant to prevent innocent individuals from jail time due to unaffordable bail, it initially took away too much discretionary power from judges.

Despite her extensive career in the city, Richter has deep ties to Saugerties. She bought her house in the town in 2012 and spends a significant amount of time there every month. This dual perspective gives her an edge, as she says, “When someone walks into my courtroom they don’t say, ‘Oh, we went to the prom together,’ or ‘Your mom was my teacher.’”

Richter’s campaign rests on her legal experience, empathy, and her fresh perspective. The race, however, is far from decided as she is running against Stanley O’Dell, the current sitting town justice.

O’Dell is the sitting town justice as well as the associate justice in the Village of Saugerties Court, who is running for his first full term in the town court. A key factor to note is that O’Dell is not a lawyer. While it might seem unusual, in New York state, it has been a long-standing tradition that allows non-lawyers to serve as justices in town and village courts, commonly referred to as “Justice Courts.”

In the New York State Constitution and Judiciary Law, there are no requirements for town or village justices to be attorneys. They must, however, meet other qualifications such as being residents of the town or village they serve. To ensure they have an understanding of their role and the law, these non-attorney justices are required to complete a certification course administered by the New York State Office of Justice Court Support that covers areas like criminal and civil procedure, evidence, and jurisdiction. They must also attend annual continuing judicial education programs.

Despite these requirements, there are ongoing debates about the appropriateness of having non-lawyer justices. The complexity of the legal matters they handle has led to the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) proposing a significant overhaul of the state’s legal system, one that would gradually phase out non-lawyer justices at the end of their four-year terms. The NYSBA recommends that only law-degree holders with at least five years of practice should be eligible to become town and village justices.

O’Dell, given his lack of formal legal training, would fall under the category of justices that the NYSBA’s proposed changes would affect.

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