The two candidates for East Hampton town justice, a position that oversees local judicial matters for both the Town and Village of East Hampton, sat down together with The Independent staff for a face-to-face discussion before the election on November 5.
The election pits Lisa Rana, 54, who has served for the past 16 years as one of the town’s two justices, and has been the court’s administrative judge for the past six years, against Andrew Strong, 39, who is currently counsel and advocate for the local chapter of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island.
Rana, a lifelong resident of the town, is on the Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, and Independence party tickets, while Strong, who moved to East Hampton full time in 2012, is on the Democrat and Working Families party lines.
A solid chunk of the collegial discussion, which was held on Thursday, October 24, centered on the massive reforms coming New Year’s Day to New York State’s criminal procedure laws, and how those changes affect local courts. Process and staffing of the court were other issues discussed.
Under the new law, almost all defendants who are arrested in the East Hampton Town Court’s jurisdiction will be released without bail, excepting those accused of the most heinous of violent crimes, such as rape and murder. Whether that release happens before or after being arraigned in the Justice Court, however, will be determined by the arresting agency.
Both candidates were asked about hypothetical situations under the new laws, such as an arraignment after a defendant has been charged with drunken driving. If the defendant is released from police headquarters with an appearance ticket to be arraigned at a later date, he or she will be able to continue to drive, despite the fact that the law requires the license be suspended. That is because the judge doing the arraignment is the one tasked by the criminal justice system with imposing such suspensions. Rana said, “I think the law wants that suspension to occur as speedily as possible after the arrest.”
Rana also said that almost anyone who is currently out on bail after being arrested in East Hampton whose cases are still open as of January 1 will have their bail money returned. As administrative judge, she has already put that massive change in motion.
Strong agreed with Rana that the next year is going to be a “bumpy” one for the Town Justice Court until all parties, including defense and prosecuting attorneys and the various police departments, adjust to the intricacies of the new laws. Rana said that she believes that case law and precedent will quickly establish the parameters of the process.
Rana pointed to several changes she has made at the courthouse over the past six years as the court’s administrative judge. One of those changes she is particularly proud of involves having court certified translators on hand on a daily basis, whether it be for arraignments, conferences, or trials, at the courthouse. Such was not the case before Rana took over as the court’s administrative judge six years ago.
Staffing has been another challenge Rana has been grappling with. The starting pay, which is set by the town board, for a court clerk in East Hampton is lower than for other East End towns competing for the same candidates. Rana had to exhaust the entire civil service list of candidates before she could find a qualified bilingual local candidate who starts next month, an accomplishment of which she is proud.
Strong addressed another major change to existing law, this one regarding the relationship between landlord and tenant. Going forward, landlords will only be able to ask for one month’s rent as security, a move Strong believes was overdue.
When looking at the new laws she has been grappling with, Rana said, “It is not my position as a judge to really comment on legislation. This is what has been decided, and I have to find a way to implement it.”
Given her experience on the bench, Strong was asked why he was running to replace Rana as one of the two justices in the fourth busiest town courthouse in the state. “I’m not running to replace Lisa,” Strong said. “If this is strictly a referendum on who has more experience in local justice court, then there is no point in having an election. Because there is no one in the state of New York who has more experience in a local justice court than Lisa. There must be more to the election process, if you are committed to doing this every four years.”
“I am interested in serving the town, in serving the community,” Strong continued, saying he would “bring a fresh perspective and a new energy” to the position.
Strong pointed to his work at OLA, calling that work a “soft advocacy, trying to convince people to make changes that are to the benefit of the town.” Being elected justice, he said, would give him an opportunity to “be more direct about certain changes I want to see.”