Though he’s been denied a seat, at least for now, on Lewisboro’s town court, former Councilman John Pappalardo is confident the current obstacle will be removed, hopefully quickly.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said last week of the snafu that has left him in an awkward between-town-jobs position. “This is an administrative issue that will ultimately be resolved.”
The “issue” arose after town officials believed one of the local court’s two seats needed to be filled. But after Pappalardo resigned his Town Board post and took the judge’s oath, state officials insisted there was no vacancy.
That’s because technically the court’s incumbent justice, Marc Seedorf, despite pleading guilty to felony tax evasion in December, still occupies one of the two justice positions a town is allowed. He’s scheduled for sentencing next month.
New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, “has already suspended him without pay,” the state Office of Court Administration said in response to a question. “They are the body who would remove him.”
But the court has not done that yet, so the state has assigned North Castle Town Judge Noah D. Sorkin to help Lewisboro’s only active jurist, Judge Susan Simon. And the Office of Court Administration told Pappalardo his swearing in on Jan. 21 was invalid.
That stance “dumbfounded” Lewisboro officials, who had relied on advice from the town’s legal counsel, Pappalardo said, in elevating him to the court.
“We’ve been told that when you enter a plea of guilty as a public official, as a judge, to a felony, and you waive your right to an appeal...that is deemed a conviction for purposes of vacating that judicial seat,” he said.
“That’s why the board moved forward in the fashion that it did,” Pappalardo said of his appointment and swearing in. “We’re dumbfounded by this...This was a surprise to all of us.”
Ordinarily, running afoul of the law spells trouble for any lawyer. “When you’re convicted of a felony, you automatically lose your license to practice law,” Pappalardo pointed out. But it’s not, it appears, enough to cost a judge his robe. At least not immediately.
Seedorf, accused of failing to pay more than $160,000 in federal income tax, faces as many as five years in prison when he appears March 24 before U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel in White Plains.
While Pappalardo was elected to the Town Board for the third time in November, his entry into elective politics dates to 2009 and an unsuccessful attempt to sit on the local court.
He’d run for the court as a Republican, so the GOP subsequently appointed him to fill a Town Board vacancy. Pappalardo then ran for the Town Board successfully in 2011 and, next time out, with cross endorsements. In 2017, a year after Donald Trump began his reign in Washington, Pappalardo switched parties and became a Democrat “for personal reasons.”
A partner in the White Plains law firm Farber, Pappalardo & Carbonari, the former councilman anticipates his move to the court with undisguised enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to take the bench,” he said. “I’ve got some programs, a whole litany of ideas. I’m really excited about it.”
In the meantime, Pappalardo can only wait. “There has to be an answer forthcoming,” he said. “We’re all hoping it is sooner rather than later.”