The candidates for Cayuga County Surrogate Court judge made their cases to voters in a televised program Thursday.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann and Auburn private practice attorney Ben Susman spoke about their qualifications and experience at Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Republican Budelmann and Democrat Susman are running for the seat currently held by Cayuga County Surrogate Judge Mark Fandrich, who announced in January that he would not pursue reelection for another 10-year term.
Each candidate was given up to five minutes of uninterrupted speaking time.
Susman spoke first, saying he represents people in Cayuga County in a variety of areas of law, including criminal court, family court and surrogate court. His wife grew up in Auburn and while living in California they decided to move to her hometown to raise their children.
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He said he is running because, "I know that our community deserves a judge that understands the real issues facing our families in our community," adding he is active in the community, representing children and families in court and being a board member for the Play Space ABC Cayuga in Auburn.
"I firmly believe that family is the foundation of our community. Our judicial system was built to uphold values that our community holds dear. Our communities have a wide range of needs and the judicial system provides many services that suit those needs," Susman said. "It's critical that our next judge understands the different ways that our judicial system can improve the safety and prosperity of our community as a whole."
As an attorney, he said he represents children and families every day, saying that family court alone "makes up over 50% of the surrogate court judge position."
He has seen the impact judges' decisions have on people and his clients firsthand, he continued, adding he feels he works tirelessly with families through the judicial process and the judge must make decisions with integrity and honesty in the best interests of children. Susman also mentioned the surrogate judge presides over criminal, civil, family and surrogate court matters.
"I am the only candidate with the experience in all four of these areas of law," he said. "The experience I bring to the bench is critical in upholding each pillar of our justice system."
Budelmann spoke second. He said the judge role requires "sound judgement, the kind that can only be obtained through years of experience." He noted he has 29 years of legal experience handling criminal, civil and family court matters.
He joined the Cayuga County District's Attorney Office in 1995 and was promoted to chief assistant district attorney that same year. Adding he was first elected district attorney in 2007, he thanked voters for choosing him for that same position in the last four elections.
"I have been honored to appear in court every week on behalf of the people of Cayuga County. The district attorney's role, just as a judge's, is to ensure justice. This means consideration of all of the factors in each case. It also requires knowledge of the laws and sentencing options in order to propose an appropriate sentence that avoids unnecessary carceration while protecting our community," Budelmann said. "I work with victims and their families every week to ensure that they get justice while treating everyone in the system fairly."
He said he's resolved thousands of felony cases successfully and prosecuted over felony trials that have ended with guilty verdicts on charges ranging from murder to sexual assault to drug sales.
"The universal truth in the justice system is we will want to live in a safe community. That's true regardless of your party, age, gender or how much money you make. That's why the district attorney's office works so closely with our law enforcement and first responders to protect our community," he said.
Budelmann said Cayuga County is his home and his children were born and raised in the area and he feels his years of experience both in and outside of the courtroom have given him the judgement and legal experience to be surrogate court judge, saying his opponent had moved here from California, where laws are different.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.