Last night after the budget presention from the Law Department, I was reminded of the Surrogate Court Judge debate happening over at the Albany Public Library. I hooked a ride up the hill with Mr. Herring and arrived just a couple of minutes late for what was the most congenial “debate” I’ve ever attended. Are ya wondering why? Well, even though there are three candidates in that race, Margaret Adkins, Kate Doyle and Helena Heath Roland….only two showed for the debate.
Guess which two. (Hey, I already told you it was congenial!)
First, I’ve got to tell you that library auditorium was the coldest I’ve ever felt it and I’ve spent a lot of time in there…come on library, you built all those new libraries and you leave this one to die a slow death.
(Aside: I was in the library the other day when a guy came in looking like a journalist….camera in tow. He saddled up to a table and watched the goings on. With telephone calls being loudly conducted, people sleeping, folks walking like they are in a carnival…chatting it up…did I say loudly. The guy seemed stunned as he watched each time us quiet patrons gazed in the direction of one of the parties. Then he went to the desk and had them call down the Director. Seems he knew her and I overheard her saying something like “oh, don’t look at this library….go look at the lovely libraries we just built. I got the feeling he was noting the carnival atmosphere taking over the main library. I guess this journalist guy left to go look at the prettier and more polite parts of the library system. Why can’t this be fixed, it’s frustrating that the library in our neighborhood is out of control.)
So, the frozen solid debaters sat beside a frozen solid facilitator from the League of Women Voters and 17 freezing people in the audience listened to each of the candidates “debate.” Since I was a little late, I’m going to have to start from the point I entered.
Each was asked how has their prior experience has helped them prepare to be Surrogate Judge. Ms. Adkins was up first and she explained that as a lawyer, she has prepared wills and trusts, she has the education and training and has been a town judge. Kate politely says, she has been in Surrogate Court 21 years and prior to that she was with the District Attorney’s office and in her current role she has also acted judicial in Supreme Court.
The next question is something about an APA which both candidates “together” first, figure out what this audience member’s question is and the, together they explain that it has nothing to do with Surrogate Court. (If you followed that link you know that the APA has nothing to do with the Adirondacks but everything to do with the Administrative Procedures Act governing how things are done within agencies.) According to these two extremely distinguished debaters, the Surrogate Court operates based on that big green book of rules Kate Doyle carries in her purse, the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law and a whole library of other stuff but not the APA which applies to agencies.
The facilitator asks each what shortcomings each had to overcome to be a good judge….both answer…patience. Seems that “ditto” was the response of the evening as each shake and shiver in the cold air. What will you do about the length of time it takes for cases?” Kate takes a breath and in her exhale she says…”nothing.” (I’m sure HHR would have aggressively sought to shorten that time frame to rounds of cheering from her easily manipulated devotees.) Kate goes on to say that there is a misconception that cases go on and on for years. While some are settled in a day, they must wait a specific amount of time to “age.” Some cases are very complicated with many lawyers representing many people…each is entititled to discovery and sometimes that takes a long time. Sometimes they don’t find out for years that gramma wasn’t paying her income tax and that is something that would play into the decision. Margaret Adkins…”ditto.”
Next up, “what if no will exists?” From Margaret, “there are administrative procedures with deal with situations where no will exists and she believes that most people in New York have wills. Kate Doyle notes that there is a default statute and the legislature has defined how the assets of a decedent (the dead person) are distributed. They are asked what the biggest challenge of Surrogate’s Court is and both answered families. The families are often fighting. Kate tells the story of a large family where the IRS found assets of 60 Million (she notes, there’s no telling how much was really there.) She left the courtroom for a few moments and the guards came running after her “what do we do???” Kate ran back to the courtroom to find the ninety something mother strangling the sixty something daughter on the floor. Yes, things get testy in the courtroom.
Both are asked what the biggest issue impacting Surrogate Court in this day and age. Both answer it’s the “economy” stupid. (Naw, I stole that line from one of my favorite political guys.) Anyway, Margaret goes on to note that in the current economy there are more people being evicted and there are a lot of real estate sales…where people used to get along they are more combative now. Kate “dittos” and adds, “back in the sixties, you’d see siblings overlooking an uneven distribution but today they fight over every penny.”
The facilitator wants to know what makes each candidate more qualified than the other. Ms. Adkins smiles and says, “I’m differently qualified.” Yup, she’s a pip. Kate, notes, “ditto. We both have qualities we would bring to the bench.” Now they are asked, “how would you improve the court system. Kate notes that, in her position as a judge in surrogate court, they can do very little about the system as a whole. Each notes, they would make their own court the very best that it can be. Margaret adds, that the higher up the food chain the harder it is to make changes. She would like a better the dissemination of information and increased online resources. This, she notes, takes resources.
In closing Adkins hopes that Albany County will consider her for Surrogate Court judge and noted that there is a choice for our voters. Ten years ago, Kate had ever line on the ballot, this decade, you have an option…then she turns to Kate and says “I shold ask you how you feel about the rent.”
Hey, I like this chick’s sense of humor.
Kate closes with her feelings on the race. “We aren’t political, we have nothing to do with legislation…while I’ve been here I have gotten three calls from a husband and sons wondering when dinner will be…but this is important.” As a Surrogate Judge, “I stand in the stead of the decedent and it is a challenge to hold society together until this economy turns around.” She is up to that challenge…as soon as she cooks dinner!