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Huntington Town board approves measure limiting political activities of bureau judges

Huntington Town Hall, where the town board meets,

Huntington Town Hall, where the town board meets,  is at 100 Main St. Credit: Alexi Knock

The Huntington Town board has approved a resolution prohibiting some of the political activities of judges who sit on the town’s Bureau of Administrative Adjudication.

The bureau hears cases including noise complaints, illegal business operations, and illegal dumping in town waterways. It does not preside over cases involving violations of building and traffic codes.

The legislation was first proposed by Democratic Town Board Member Joan Cergol in November 2020 and called for prohibiting administrative law judges, who are appointed, from engaging in such things as holding office in a political organization, including serving as a leader and raising money for candidates.

The legislation stalled because some of her Republican board colleagues found it too restrictive.

But after allowing for an exception for administrative law judges’ own judicial campaigns, which aligns with state law, the resolution passed 5 to 0 at the June 15 town board meeting.

Cergol said she was grateful the measure passed unanimously.

"In our current climate of cynicism toward government, the adoption of these prohibitions will signal that Huntington is serious about promoting public trust and integrity in its court," she said.

The legislation bars bureau judges from holding an office or executive position or acting as a committee member in any political party or organization; managing work for any political party or organization, or candidate for public office; endorsing candidates; and making financial contributions or soliciting funds for political candidates. The new law also requires bureau judges to file annual financial disclosure reports with the town.

The bureau was established in November 2019, the first of its kind on Long Island. Cases had previously been heard in Third District Court.

One of the most outspoken critics of the measure had been Republican Deputy Supervisor Ed Smyth who had previously said the measure was an overreach. That's mostly because the cases the judges hear fall below the level of small claims court and did not warrant stripping them of their right to fully participate in the political process.

Smyth said he voted for the amended version because "the unconstitutional language barring town judges from seeking higher judicial office was removed."

Cergol’s said her concern was that under a section of New York State law for the judiciary, by which Third District court judges are governed, judges are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activities. However, the same rules did not apply to administrative law judges unless adopted by the local employing agency.

"If we’re going to get into the court business then we have to live by the same rules," Cergol said.

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