My name is David Wern. I reside in Sherburne and I am an elected Town Councilman. Before moving to Sherburne 8 years ago, I spent 38 years in Cortland County. While there, I was an elected member of the Cortland County Legislature for 12 years and served on the Judiciary Committee. I have worked on many judicial campaigns, including the campaigns of many Judges currently sitting in Cortland County. Although I am not an attorney, I am very familiar with the unique ethical rules pertaining to judicial races and I have become rather concerned of late.
In this campaign for County Court Judge, the McBride Campaign Team has clearly adopted a very “old school” strategy of directly soliciting the public support of prominent law enforcement officials – a tactic which is as old as dirt, and which is designed to convince the average layperson voter that the endorsed candidate is the right person for the job. The tactic is and always has been a deliberate attempt to focus the voting public’s attention on the impressiveness of the endorsement, rather than on the candidate. The hope is that the public will unquestionably follow suit and vote for the candidate, based upon the strength and reputation of the endorsement.
Generally, candidates for any office are allowed to seek the support and endorsement of anyone they choose. However, judicial candidates are far more restricted in what they can do and the ethical rules strongly caution the candidates to refrain from seeking endorsements that might bring the candidate’s ability to remain impartial into question. This tactic adopted by the McBride Campaign Team, clearly brings into question his ability to remain fair and impartial, if elected. I will explain.
When Mr. McBride first announced his candidacy from the steps of the Chenango County Courthouse, standing by his side was County Sheriff Ernie Cutting, Undersheriff James Lloyd, Norwich City Police Chief Joseph Angelino, Greene Village Police Chief Stephen Dutcher and other law enforcement officials. Since then, Norwich Police Chief Angelino, Undersheriff Lloyd and Sheriff’s Detective Cobb have all written letters of endorsement to the newspapers; and Sheriff Ernie Cutting has been walking Mr. McBride door to door around the county endorsing his campaign to the voters – don’t take my word, just check out McBride’s Facebook page and check out McBride’s own paid for newspaper ads boasting of the endorsements. A press release was also recently issued by the McBride Team announcing that the New York State Association of Criminal Investigators (BCI), the chief investigative unit of the NYS Police, has also endorsed Mr. McBride and most recently, the Police Benevolent Association.
The readers must surely know that the timing and placement of these endorsements is purely strategic and is not just coincidental, as each endorsement arrives within the final days of this Republican primary process. By the time you are reading my letter, there will likely be more. These endorsements are not random heartfelt letters coming from our chief law enforcement officials, these are endorsements which have been sought out. The fact that these officers are even commenting on Mr. McBride’s abilities in Family Court and constantly reciting Mr. McBride’s own self generated statistics, should tip off all of the readers as to the disingenuous nature of the endorsements.
Here is the problem. In criminal proceedings, the police agencies conduct the investigation, file charges against the defendant and are the witnesses for the District Attorney. Presuming for the moment that Mr. McBride becomes the next County Court Judge, he has effectively indebted himself to these law enforcement officials for their open endorsement of his campaign, and thereby compromised his ability to remain fair and impartial – or at the very least, created the appearance of his inability to remain impartial. From the perspective of anyone who might be charged with a crime this is a potential problem. Every defendant would have a valid objection to Mr. McBride presiding over any case, if the NYS Police, the Sheriff’s Department, the Norwich City Police Department, or the Greene Village Police Department was involved (basically every case in Chenango County). Since each prominent law enforcement official has publicly endorsed Mr. McBride’s campaign, I believe the ethical rules would require Judge McBride to advise every defendant of this fact and provide the defendant with an opportunity to object. Really stop and think about it. What defendant or defense attorney would feel comfortable knowing that all of the law enforcement agencies, through their respective commanders, had publicly endorsed the sitting Judge – the Judge who is supposed to presume innocence until proven guilty? Remember, if Mr. McBride were running in an uncontested race for re-election as District Attorney, having law enforcement officials write letters of support would be fine. However, this is not an uncontested race and he is not running for District Attorney. He is running for County Court Judge.
Except for integrity, the most important characteristic required of any Judge is the ability to remain impartial and fair. I find it rather ridiculous to presume Mr. McBride could exercise such impartiality in criminal proceedings when he would be directly indebted to these law enforcement agencies for their public support of his campaign. Mr. McBride, his team and these law enforcement officials have, by their actions, brought the integrity of the entire system into question. There is no doubt in my mind that every one of them is aware of this “old school” political tactic and each willingly participated. This should come as no surprise to the readers, for this campaign team is being led behind the scenes by the most well known old school boy in Chenango County, who brags of his 38 years of service to “The Party.” Kind of smells of Chicago politics. Shame, shame, shame on all of you.