John V. Rogowski is 69 years old, faces the end of his 10-year term on the Erie County Court bench and says he'll retire when he's good and ready -- not when "sanctimonious political bosses" tell him.
Michael Pietruszka is 41 years old, faces the end of his term in Buffalo City Court and wants to run for Rogowski's seat in County Court -- contending it's his turn.
The result is a burning brouhaha in local legal and political circles over what Rogowski calls his right to run for another term, even if state law mandates his retirement when he turns 70 next year.
Pietruszka, meanwhile, argues he is frozen out of a chance to advance because of Rogowski's wish for one more year.
"He's had a good run; he's been around for 30 years," Pietruszka said. "I just don't know what the thinking is here."
"My age should make no difference whatsoever," counters Rogowski. "I'll retire when I have to retire. This almost borders on age discrimination."
The problem began in January when it became clear Rogowski would not receive the Democratic Party's nod to run for State Supreme Court, leading him to seek re-election to another 10-year term in Erie County Court. However, state law mandates that Rogowski must retire at 70, even if he is re-elected in November.
Rogowski's decision threw a roadblock in Pietruszka's efforts to advance from the city bench.
If he honors Rogowski's wishes, he will have to run for re-election to City Court this year, then stage an expensive and time-consuming run for County Court next year when Rogowski must retire.
Pietruszka said he is ready to contribute $100,000 of his own funds to an expected $150,000 to $180,000 judicial campaign. But he can't afford to run both this year and next year.
Over the last three years, Pietruszka has been passed over for a State Supreme Court race in favor of candidates closer to Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.
But Pietruszka said Pigeon has warmed up to his County Court push, as have County Executive Gorski, Mayor Masiello and several unions.
Pietruszka expects to receive the endorsement of the Erie County Democratic Committee this spring.
That has Rogowski fuming. He said he cannot recall a single instance when a sitting Democratic judge in Erie County was denied the party endorsement for re-election.
"All I'm asking for is one more year, and I thought I was deserving of that," he said. "I don't know why someone with 44 years of legal experience can't get the endorsement of his own party."
Rogowski said Pietruszka's problem is a personal one that should not affect him, adding that Pietruszka has many more years to try for the bench.
He acknowledges that he, too, must spend close to $100,000 to run for one more year on the bench.
"It may sound foolish to spend all this money, but I won't let these guys tell me I can't run at a time when I deserve it," he said.
Pigeon said he fears a Pietruszka-Rogowski primary would attract more candidates and is trying to work out an agreement between the two.