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Amityville Village judge: Term limit proposal illegal

HVillage Attorney Debra Urbano-DiSalvo speaking at a Public

HVillage Attorney Debra Urbano-DiSalvo speaking at a Public Hearing by the Inc Village of Hempstead Board of Trustees on the topic of a proposed Living Wage law, held at the Hempstead Public Library in Hempstead Village. (Aug. 27, 2007) Photo Credit: Jim Peppler

Amityville's village justice said a proposal by trustees to impose term limits on her office is illegal, and she plans to challenge it at Monday night's board meeting -- or in court, if necessary.

The proposal is part of a term-limits bill drafted late last month that would also apply to trustees if passed into law. Trustees, including the mayor, would be limited to two consecutive four-year terms. The village justice would be limited to three four-year terms.

But Judge Debra Urbano-Di-Salvo, who was appointed to office in 2002 and won a special election in 2003, said the move would violate constitutional principles intended to keep one branch of government from dominating another.

"This is Con [constitutional] Law 101 -- it's about separation of powers," she said. "They are putting politics before good government."

Trustee Nick LaLota said the bill, which could come to a vote later this month, was written to discourage people from making a career out of elected office. "We want representatives who are interested in representing the people and then going home," he said. "These aren't supposed to be professional politicians running the village."

Allowing the justice three terms instead of two was an acknowledgment that "the pool of people the village can pull from is smaller and the expertise required is greater," he said.

Urbano-DiSalvo, 57, is one of the relatively few local justices in New York State with a law degree. Last year, she earned $14,000 a year, not including health benefits, trying violations and misdemeanors in penal law for the village, as well as vehicle and traffic violations and misdemeanors. She also serves as village attorney for Hempstead and as an administrative law judge in Suffolk County's traffic violations bureau.

A Sept. 27 letter from the New York State Magistrates Association to the trustees and village attorney Bruce Kennedy backs her in the matter, citing an article of the state constitution stating that judges' terms are set by the legislature. "The village cannot tamper with the terms," the letter concluded. "Doing so would be in violation of the Constitution and State Law."

Kennedy said he'd found no cases dealing specifically with the question of term limits for the office of local justice. "The proposed law would be sustained if challenged in court," he said.

There is, however, a precedent for a term-limits law with a provision for local justices. The village of Bellport has one, which limits justices to 12 consecutive years in office and 25 total years in office.

Amityville Mayor James Wandell, who made term limits part of his campaign platform in spring, said that while he believed a majority of residents supported the proposal, village officials would do more research before a board vote.

Trustees Dennis Siry and Kevin Smith say they would oppose the measure, but they would likely be outvoted by Wandell, LaLota and Jessica Bernius.

Some members of the previous board served for decades.

Siry, elected 2011, is currently the longest-serving trustee.

Effects of the proposed term limits law

No more than two four-year terms:

James P. Wandell, mayor

Jessica T. Bernius, deputy mayor

Dennis M. Siry, trustee

Kevin P. Smith, trustee

Nick LaLota, trustee

No more than three four-year terms:

Justice Debra Urbano-DiSalvo


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