Huntington to discuss limiting political activity of judges

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Huntington Town Board member Joan Cergol said she plans to offer a resolution at tonight’s meeting to prohibit administrative law judges who hear code violation cases from engaging in political activities.

Cergol said it’s an effort to avoid potential political influence on judges presiding over local cases. Political activities include holding office in a political organization, including as leader, raising money for candidates, speaking on behalf of candidates and donating money to their favorite political causes.

“Politics has a way of infecting our government; in a lot of ways we can’t help it, but here is a way we can,” Cergol, a Democrat, said.

The Bureau of Administrative Adjudication hears cases including noise complaints, illegal housing, illegal business operations, illegal dumping in town waterways, and illegal sewer connections. It does not preside over cases involving violations of building and traffic codes.

Its first cases were heard in September.

Violators previously faced a judge in Third District Court. Under a state law, judiciary judges are not allowed to engage in certain political activities, Cergol said. Those rules do not apply to administrative law judges unless the local agency adopts such rules.

Joshua C. Price, a Republican, is the bureau’s director and chief administrative law judge. Price, not the town board, selects the part-time administrative law judges.

The town’s former planning board vice chairwoman Mara Manin Amendola is an administrative law judge who serves as a backup for Price.

Gregory Grizopoulos, two-time town board candidate James F. Leonick, and Tammy E. Skinner have also been named administrative law judges and will make up the board to hear appeals.

Amendola will be paid $25,000 annually; appellate judges will get $3,500 per year. Price earns $60,000-a-year in his part-time position.

“Residents are entitled to confidence and peace of mind in knowing that our locally adopted prohibitions will guard against decisions subject to influence by politics, political donors and/or other partisan donations and activities that serve the administrative law judge’s political interests particularly given they are appointed by a political body and not elected by the people as are those in district court,” Cergol said.

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