Lewisboro was embarrassed to learn this week that its Town Court has at least three judges on a bench built for two.
The town’s roster of jurists had been reduced to just one last month following Judge Marc Seedorf’s guilty plea in a felony federal tax-evasion case. That led to the Town Board’s appointment of veteran Councilman John Pappalardo to fill what officials saw as a vacancy on the bench.
Problem is, even as he awaits sentencing on the tax beef, Seedorf remains a town judge—suspended and not drawing a salary, but still on the bench—the state court system says. Indeed, the state has assigned yet another jurist, Judge Noah D. Sorkin of New Castle, to help Judge Susan Simon with her duties.
All told, that gives the court four jurists—though only three are active. But state law provides only two black robes per town, and requires any increase in the number of judges to take an act of the state legislature.
That puts town officials in a squeeze.
Besides Pappalardo, who had been re-elected to his Town Board seat in November, the latest turn of events also impacts a political newcomer, Jennifer Castelhano. A South Salem mother of two and an aide to state Sen. Peter Harckham, she was was sworn in last week as Pappalardo’s successor.
Despite Seedorf’s guilty plea Dec. 6, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which oversees the judiciary, only suspended him, without pay, on Dec. 20.
“We made it clear to the town that we would not, and subsequently have not, accepted the fact that there is a judicial vacancy,” Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Court Administration said. “Therefore, we have not accepted, nor recognize, his successor’s oath of office.”
Supervisor Peter Parsons said that in moving ahead with Pappalardo’s appointment he had relied on the advice of Town Attorney Anthony Mole.
“He’s the only guy who can speak with some authority on this,” Parsons said. “I was told there was a vacancy.”
Both Pappalardo and Castelhano are Democrats, and their appointments by the all-Democratic Town Board, not surprisingly, had elicited a Republican protest.
Last week, in a statement, new GOP town chair Christopher Arnold had pointed out that a special election to fill the vacancies could have been scheduled in April and June, when polls will be open for primaries.
“Instead of an open and transparent process,” he said, “backroom deals were made without any public input.”
This week, in an interview, Arnold appeared to relish the Democrats’ discomfiture. He attributed the court snafu to what he criticized as the Town Board’s unilateral approach to that appointment.
“This is what happens when you have behind-closed-doors decision-making,” he said.
Pappalardo, who was out of town this week, could not be reached for comment. He ran successfully for the Town Board three times, most recently just this past November. He also ran—unsuccessfully and as a Republican—for the town justice post, losing to
Susan Simon, the judge who swore him in last Tuesday, Jan. 21. The question now is when—or whether—he will sit on the bench.