The Saratoga County Republican Executive Committee has endorsed attorney Erika Riebel of Clifton Park for Saratoga County Family Court, rather than incumbent Gilbert Abramson who has been the family court judge for ten years. Abramson was initially appointed by former Governor, George Pataki. Although Abramson was not endorsed by the committee, he was one of several people interviewed by the committee. Riebel will be recommended to the full committee which will meet on May 27.
Judge Abramson, the Willie Wonka of Saratoga County
Abramson, often called the Candy Judge or Willy Wonka, keeps candy and stuffed animals in his court room to give to children who appear before him.
While an April 30, 2006 Daily Gazette article extolled the virtues of Abramson (available for a fee here), not everyone is happy with him. A February 10, 2005 recommendation by Abramson, written on court stationery, became the basis of a complaint against Abramson. According to June Maxam of the North Country Gazette, that complaint was dismissed, but in her opinion should not have been.
A second complaint against Judge Abramson alleging that a court transcript was edited down from an hour to about six minutes was also dismissed by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, in spite of strong evidence revealing that the transcript was doctored.
Appellate court overturns controversial decision by Abramson
In 2007 an appellate court overturned a 2004 decision of Abramson’s in which he ruled that a child’s parents had severely abused her. In reality the child suffered from a rare disease. The appellate court ruled that Abramson abused his discretion by not reopening the case and allowing two medical experts to testify. The parents’ attorney and Albany law school professor, Laurie Shanks, called the case a rush to judgement. Because of Abramson’s ruling, the parents of the girl were separated from her for three years. The parents, both professionals, and their children were so traumatized by what happened to them, they moved out of state to start a new life.
In a New York State Bar Association article. Cynthia Feathers had this to say about Abramson’s ruling.
“After the finding of severe abuse, Family Court had only two dispositional options as to Julia: termination of parental rights or suspended judgment. The proof so overwhelmingly preponderated in favor of suspended judgment that the decision to sever parental rights was stunning. The most cogent and salient proof was a comprehensive report from the court-appointed psychologist urging that terminating parental rights would do grievous harm to all three children. Although Social Services
required the parents to take a parenting class, they had the skills to teach such a class, according to the neutral expert. The children’s law guardian also advocated urgently for a disposition of suspended judgment.”
“In addition to severing parental rights as to Julia, Family Court ordered ongoing Social Services intervention and intrusion into the lives of John and Emily, who had remained at home in their parents’ care, without any services, throughout the litigation. The Court embraced the attitude of the Social Services agency, whose conviction that the parents were abusers fueled an intransigent
insistence that the other children were derivatively neglected—in the face of uncontroverted proof that they were exceptionally happy and well-adjusted.”
Erika Riebel, Child Advocate
Erika Riebel is hoping her experience as an advocate for children will enable her to win the judgeship in November, according to an article in the Sunday Gazette (subscription required). According to the article, Riebel said, “This is essentially a culmination of 15 years’ desire to defend the children of our county, to represent the most helpless.”
Riebel did not explain how her experience as an advocate qualifies her to become a judge, a neutral or non-advocacy role.
Former Saratoga Family Court candidate Kurt Mausert
Kurt Mausert, an unsuccessful candidate for Saratoga County Family Court judge in 2008, believes that domination of the family court by Republicans in Saratoga County is a problem and that the judiciary needs to be independent. Mausert believes that a judge should be a servant.
Following Mausert’s unsuccessful bid for Family Court judge, Judge Abramson recused himself from all of Mausert’s cases, making it difficult for Mausert to practice family law, his specialty, in Saratoga County.
Endorsement numbers don’t add up
It is unclear why the Saratoga County GOP endorsed Riebel rather than the incumbent Republican family court judge. It’s possible that some of Abramson’s actions cost him the endorsement. On the other hand, the Saratoga County GOP may simply be putting a progressive spin on their party by endorsing a woman for the position. In any event, a Time-Union report states that the endorsement vote was close-that Riebel received only 51% of the vote after four ballots–a figure, however, that seems suspect since one would need a very large committee to come up with such an odd number. On the other hand, The Saratogian reports that Riebel won the endorsement by 2-1.
The Democrats have yet to endorse a candidate for the office.