The candidates for Cayuga County Surrogate Judge are disputing each other's definition of family court experience.
The Republican candidate for the seat, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann, stated in a televised program Thursday that his 29 years of legal experience included family court matters. The campaign for Ben Susman, a Democrat and Auburn private practice attorney, has been claiming that Susman is the only candidate with experience in family court, which is one of the courts over which the surrogate judge in the county must preside.
The Susman campaign said they researched Budelmann's legal career in order to make their claim, and following Thursday's comments, called on the district attorney to explain how he could accurately claim family court experience.
Budelmann and Susman were given both up to five minutes of uninterrupted speaking time to explain their qualifications and experience at a television program recorded at Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Cayuga County Surrogate Judge Mark Fandrich currently occupies the role both candidates are running for. Fandrich announced in January that he would not seek reelection for another 10-year term.
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The Susman campaign has been making the claim that Susman is the only candidate for this seat with family court experience, citing his work representing children and families in such cases, which are presided over by the surrogate judge. After Budelmann said during Thursday's televised program that he also family court experience, the Susman campaign was not backing down from its claim.
"Integrity is a critical value for anyone that sits on the bench. Any misleading statement can be dangerous to voters, and it is important any statements that appear misleading are investigated. Our campaign is dedicated to integrity and ensuring voters are informed to make the choice they deem as best," The Committee to Elect Ben Susman said in an emailed statement to The Citizen.
When asked to elaborate on the statement, Susman's campaign manager, Joshua Ludden, explained the purpose of issuing it.
"Nobody on the campaign is saying, 'Yes, he's lying' or 'No, he's not lying,' just want to make sure that because the public has expressed that they weren't aware of this experience, we want to make sure that the public's voice is being heard and that their concerns are being respected by all candidates," Ludden said.
In an email to The Citizen, Budelamnn said the Susman campaign's claims were incorrect, adding "I assume it is unintentional and simply due to Susman’s lack of experience."
In his role as district attorney, he continued, he handles many different family court matters. Budelamnn cited his experience with juvenile offender matters.
"These are cases where underage offenders (denominated Juvenile Delinquents) commit certain serious crimes and could either be prosecuted as adults (in the Criminal Courts) or in Family Court. In these circumstances, we work with the Juvenile prosecuting authority (the County Attorney’s Office), as well as child protective services, the police, and other interested stakeholders," he said.
He also mentioned the work done in the former integrated domestic violence court and more recently in Raise the Age cases, where offenders under the age of 18 are addressed.
"We also deal with Family Court custody issues, particularly where a parent sexually or physically abuses their child. We work regularly with Child Protective Services, the Probation Department, and the County Attorney’s Office in coordinating our response to the cases/situations. Even in other cases, there is frequently the same concerns about the welfare of the children, and we work with Family Court in crafting orders of protection in order to mesh with their custody orders and visitation schedules," Budelmann said. "In fact there are many cases that are tracking simultaneously in both courts and we are appearing in both courts in order to stay aware of the matters and being heard."
Budelmann also said that Susman's campaign questioning Budelmann's family court experience claim "strikes me as hypocritical. I suspect that the reason my opponent’s campaign is upset is that they have been untruthful with and misleading the public about my qualifications."
He cited the Susman campaign's palm card as falsely implying that Budelmann has no experience with any court, including criminal. As district attorney, Budelman said, he "obviously" has criminal court experience and he also been involved in numerous civil litigation matters.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.