Editor's Note: This week, The Cortland Voice is publishing interviews with political candidates vying for office ahead of the upcoming Sept. 12 primary.
Lenore LeFevre, a practicing attorney who also serves as a plan administrator for the Cortland County Assigned Counsel Office, is looking to become the next town judge for Cortlandville. She spoke with The Cortland Voice's Sara Sampson about her election campaign.
Do you think your experience as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve gives you a unique perspective for Cortlandville Town Justice?
Yes. As an officer in the Navy Reserve, I commanded sailors from all walks of life. Although every member of the armed services was an individual, each had to abide by the same set of military standards and rules. It was my responsibility to ensure those standards were met by the individuals by administering a system of rewards and consequences with fairness and consistency. Likewise, as a justice in Cortlandville Town Court, litigants and defendants come from varied backgrounds; yet all must abide by the law. It will my job to administer our legal system, both criminal and civil, with its rewards and consequences.
What are some of the biggest problems facing Cortlandville today? How can you remedy them as Town Justice?
We are very fortunate to live in a community that doesn't have many of the problems faced by many larger cities. I am grateful to have raised my children in Cortlandville, and I wouldn't want to live any other place. Of course, every town can always be improved, and like many other communities, Cortlandville faces a drug problem, particularly among our young adults. Every case needs to be decided on its individual merits, and there will always be cases where incarceration is the only just option. However, as town justice I would seek collaborative approaches with municipal and community agencies and law enforcement, to interrupt the addiction cycle. I recently participated in the Sequential Intercept Mapping Training in conjunction with the Cortland County Probation Department wherein various community organizations work together to provide services, not only for the addicted population, but also for the mentally ill in our community.
What can you bring to this position? What experience do you have?
I graduated from Cornell Law School and have been a practicing attorney for 23 years. During this time, I have managed my own general practice firm. I have also been an Assistant Public Defender in Cortland County. Although I have a diverse background in the law, there are areas that will particularly benefit me as Town Justice: Criminal law, Integrated Domestic Violence Court, Landlord-Tenant proceedings, Small Claims proceedings, Appellate cases, and Drug Court. I have experience on committees and boards listening to applicants/parties and making fair decisions: Surrogate Court Decision Making Committee, Cortlandville Zoning Board of Appeals, Attorney Fee Dispute Arbitration, and Disciplinary/ Fact-Finding Boards in the Navy Reserves.
Why should voters care about judicial elections?
Judges at the local level have a fairly significant level of power in both civil matters—such as small claims proceedings and landlord-tenant disputes—and criminal cases, ranging from traffic tickets to felonies. The typical voter may not envision themselves ever being a defendant in a criminal proceeding, but what about a friend or a relative? Wouldn't they want the judge in their friend's or relative's case to be fair and set reasonable bail? Wouldn't they want a judge who knows the proper jury instructions so as not to sway the jury one way or the other? Small claims court is not that uncommon for the average citizen. Just as in criminal court, a litigant would want a judge who knows the law; listens carefully; considers each case on its facts; is respectful to all parties; and makes just decisions. Anyone who's been in court with a judge who lacks any of these qualities will tell you how important it is to VOTE!
What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?
Politics. Given the important role judges play in the judicial system, citizens should want the most qualified person in the position. It is unfortunate that a certain population of voters always vote on party lines regardless of the candidate's character or qualifications. An argument could be made that judges shouldn't even be allowed to run on "Republican" or "Democrat" tickets. It shouldn't matter what a person's political leanings are when they are running for judge. What matters is the candidate's education, experience, character, temperament, competence, and ability to be fair and unbiased.
What are the major influences in your life? Why?
I thought a lot about this question. In many ways, I have had an eventful life. I have worked my way up from an enlisted recruit in the Navy Reserves to a supply corps officer, and served in New York City after 9/11. I was deployed to the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War. I have studied Physics and graduated magna cum laude. I have traveled to various countries, met so many different people and learned about diverse cultures. I have represented battered women and minor children in Family Court proceedings. I have survived breast cancer. However, when all is said and done, the life event that has influenced me most is being a mother. Nothing could have ever prepared me for the joys, sorrows, responsibilities, and rewards of raising my boys. Before they were born, I couldn't imagine loving anyone that much. Everything changed when I had children: the way I look at society, relationships, the environment, mortality...As they grew up, I grew up. They are fine young men now, but they will always be my little boys.
Who are your judicial role models? Why?
My judicial role models are the local judges in our community, most of whom I've known since before they were judges. As a judicial candidate, I am not allowed to publicly support other judicial candidates or sitting judges, so I won't mention names. I respect and admire each individual judge for their own particular skills and character traits that they bring to the bench. I'd like to think that I could emulate the best traits from each judge and bring that to the bench if I am elected. For instance, there are two local judges who show how much they genuinely care about the parties before them by treating everyone with respect and a smile. Two other judges bring a certain wisdom and common sense to Court. When faced with a young defendant, they take the time to give the young man or woman a stern lecture. It's evident that they are trying to get them back on the right path. Other judges have a knack for assessing credibility and being decisive when they need to be. I'm lucky to have practiced with our local judiciary.