Incumbent filed petitions to appear on four ballot lines
Democrats and Working Families Party members in Beacon can vote on Tuesday (June 22) in primaries that will determine whether an incumbent City Court judge faces opposition in the November general election.
Beacon has one full-time justice who serves a 10-year term and a part-time justice who serves for six years. Incumbent Timothy Pagones is seeking a second 10-year term on the court, which handles misdemeanors, traffic infractions and various small claims. As a Republican, Pagones won six-year terms in 1999 and 2005 and a 10-year term, running unopposed, in 2011.
Pagones is now an independent and this year filed nominating petitions with the county Board of Elections to appear on the Republican, Conservative, Democratic and Working Families lines. That forced primaries with Greg Johnston, a public defender who filed for the Democratic and Working Families lines and received endorsements from both parties. If Pagones wins the lines, he will appear unopposed on the November ballot.
There is also a Working Families Party primary for Dutchess County Family Court Judge. Rachel Saunders, who lives in Beacon, is seeking the ballot line, as is the incumbent, Denise Watson. Saunders will already appear on the Democratic line in November, and Watson on the Republican line.
Early voting for the primaries began on June 12. Polls will be open today (June 18) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The closest site for Beacon voters is Fishkill Town Hall, at 807 Route 52. The standard polling locations in Beacon will be open on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Current asked Johnston and Pagones three questions about the race. Their responses have been edited for brevity.
Why are you running?
Johnston: I have practiced for 17 years as a public defender and believe my experience would bring a unique and vital perspective to City Court. The vast majority of judges are former prosecutors, while former public defenders are underrepresented. The system works best when it reflects all aspects and experiences of the legal community. I have represented thousands of low-income New Yorkers, accused of a wide range of offenses, in front of hundreds of judges. I have witnessed the profound impact the system has on both the accused and victims. Judges must respect all people who appear before them. That respect is rooted in considering not only the person but the road that led them to that place.
Pagones: I want to continue serving and helping the people who appear in my court. Along with presiding over traffic tickets, landlord and tenant matters, civil cases, small claims and criminal cases, I created the drug treatment court, domestic violence court, opioid recovery court and mental health court. The programs help people avoid convictions and even arrests. I have spent my career doing my best to help people better themselves. I want to expand my programs to help more people.
What makes this position important?
Johnston: City Court touches many aspects of Beacon residents’ lives. The judge handles traffic court, decides whether someone is evicted and determines if someone must post cash bail or is released without it. Most important, the judge can steer a resident needing mental health or substance abuse assistance to treatment. I’ve knocked on the doors of hundreds of my neighbors and heard many personal stories about their experiences in City Court. I believe Beacon can do better. I would like to expand the number of “problem-solving” courts that connect defendants with services that address the root causes of crime rather than focusing on punishment. For instance, Beacon would benefit from a youth court where young adults accused of crimes could get assistance to overcome the challenges they are facing.
Pagones: City Court deals with the community through traffic tickets, landlord and tenant cases, small claims, civil cases and criminal cases. These are things that affect everyday people. The court is basically the people’s court because it deals with issues that impact the lives of many people. Whether someone loses their license, gets evicted or potentially goes to jail is up to the judge. That’s why it is important to have the most qualified and experienced person in the position. With more than 20 years’ experience presiding over these issues, I am the person to continue doing the job.
This race has gotten a lot of attention. Why do you think that is?
Johnston: I’m a little surprised by it. The tragic passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg highlighted the important role that judges play in our society. While Beacon City Court obviously does not wield a fraction of the power of the Supreme Court, whoever sits on its bench can profoundly affect quality of life not just for anyone who appears before the judge, but for anyone who lives in Beacon. Residents here understand that an engaged, empathetic and experienced attorney as judge can have a positive impact. Beacon only gets a chance to pick its judge every 10 years, so it’s inspiring to me to see so much interest and debate.
Pagones: The race has gotten attention because a position which should be based on experience and qualifications is being based on political affiliations. I was told by members of the Beacon Democratic Committee that, even though I am the most qualified candidate, I could not be endorsed because I’m unaffiliated and that my opponent would be because he is a registered Democrat. The race has also gathered attention because of the personal attacks and lies in letters to the editor by the Beacon Democratic Party chair and the mailings by my opponent because I gathered enough signatures to primary him for the Democratic and Working Families lines. With more than 30 years of experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, assistant judge and full-time judge, I’m the most qualified person for the position. That is what should matter.