By ERIC TICHY
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Judicial temperament should play a large role when voting in public servants, two New York state advocacy groups said.
"Voters should know. Voters need to know the person they could be electing into office," said Dick Dadey, executive director for Citizen Union, a nonpartisan New York City-based advocacy group on good government.
Incumbent County Court Judge John T. Ward, R-Ashville, is being challenged by attorney William F. Coughlin, the former county assistant district attorney and public defender. Ward is seeking his third 10-year term behind the bench.
Coughlin, while serving in the public sector, received numerous complaints of sexual harassment and anger problems by fellow female employees. One of those complaints resulted in a 2003 lawsuit against Coughlin and the county.
"Voters are entitled to know," Dadey said, "and he's also entitled to explain because (the reprimands) occurred in the context of his job. The voters have a right to know before they place him on the bench."
Added Russ Haven of the New York Public Interest Research Group: "Should someone's past be taken into account, even if it did happen a long time ago? I would say yes."
Coughlin told the OBSERVER he received anger management training while in the District Attorney's Office, and pointed out that he has not received any reprimands in the last 10 years.
"Look at my record, I have changed," he said. "People can change." Coughlin said bringing up the reprimands now, a decade later, should not be held against him.
On the local level, judicial temperament is just as important.
"It's vital and it's sort of a thing a lot of people don't necessarily think about." said David Foley, county district attorney. "I think almost anything that you do during your professional career should bear on someone's temperament."
Foley would not comment directly on Coughlin. He did note, however, that candor behind the bench is important for a judge.
"Generally speaking when you ascend to the position of judge, clearly your temperament and your integrity is going to make the system work," he said.
Ward, Coughlin's opponent for County Judge, said he would not attack Coughlin for his reprimands while the assistant district attorney and public defender. He said past actions should be considered "fair game" for scrutiny.
"I'm not going to point any fingers, but our backgrounds are what they are," Ward said. "I certainly think both of our backgrounds are fair game.
"I think your position of judge is one where backgrounds need to be looked into to see if they have the temperament."