Elections for town justice are supposed to be civil, respectful and somewhat ... judicial.
Not so in Amherst this year, as the race for the top legal post outside Buffalo is heating up into an all-out political war.
Democrats say Republican Town Council Member Barbara S. Nuchereno lacks the experience to be a judge, especially since she failed to even register with the state this year as an attorney.
Republicans, meanwhile, accuse Democrat Kara A. Buscaglia of lying about her experience and failing to disclose her fundraising reports.
Even the candidates themselves, while peeved at the accusations, appear to be more disgusted at the ugliness of the campaign.
“It’s been nasty,” said Nuchereno. “It’s the tone of the whole campaign.”
Said Buscaglia: “It’s a shame. Judicial races should be done with a certain amount of ethics and standards.”
That is now out of the question as both parties are pouring resources into the race in anticipation of Tuesday’s primary.
While Nuchereno is the endorsed Republican and Buscaglia the endorsed Democrat, each will appear on the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence lines in an attempt to knock the other off the ballot before the general election.
Town Democratic Chairman Jerome D. Schad on Thursday produced 18 pages of court records showing Nuchereno failed to re-register as a lawyer with the state this year, as attorneys are required to do. He said the revelation, along with the fact that Nuchereno has not had an active practice in 13 years, calls into question her fitness for the job. “If you haven’t been a private practitioner in 13 years, that’s something that sticks out,” he said.
Nuchereno said she is the victim of Democratic smear attacks that have turned a cordial race into a battle, adding that she has 2½ times more experience than her younger opponent. “All they talk about is me,” she said of the Democrats. “In every other race I’ve been in I respected my opponents and my opponents respected me and we were friends or friendly after. This has been nothing but a constant barrage of nasty emails.”
As for the questions about her registration, she said, “I should have done it ... I probably should have, quite frankly.”
But she said she was not actively practicing and that paying the fee or taking the required classes “really shouldn’t be a problem.”
Candidates for town justice in New York State are not required to be an attorney.
Nuchereno deflected criticism about her experience by pointing out that she worked in private practice from 1987 to 2000 and later as a confidential law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Sharon S. Townsend when Townsend was administrator of all family courts in Western New York.
She also accused Buscaglia of failing to submit her previous two financial disclosure statements on time with the state Board of Elections.
Buscaglia denies that she submitted the petitions late, as was recently alleged in a negative mailer put out by the Amherst Century Club, a fundraising arm for town Republicans.
State records show the reports have been submitted, but state officials could not verify the date of the filing.
Buscaglia also attempted to distance herself from some of the negative emails that play up Buscaglia’s criminal court experience as an assistant district attorney and later as a private criminal defense lawyer. One email tells readers that the thought of Nuchereno becoming judge is “pretty scary,” while Buscaglia’s own mailings tout her as the “only candidate” with criminal law and trial experience.
Buscaglia said she did not authorize the emails and “refuses to play that game.”
“It’s not from me, and I’ve never seen this,” she said. “I could not tell you who these people are and what they said. I have no knowledge of this to this day.”
Schad said he doesn’t think the election has been especially nasty.
“I honestly don’t,” he said. “I’ve run myself three times, and each time I ran, something happened between the Thursday through Sunday before the primary. I expect to see that type of stuff going on, and frankly all candidates do. But I don’t think the scope on the judicial side has gotten to that.”
The fireworks may not be over just yet. Each candidate has roughly $7,000 left in her election fundraising account.
That, of course, does not count any money that might pour in from either party.
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