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CITY COURT JUDGE FACES 2 CHALLENGERS

Whether there will be a Buffalo City Court election in November will be determined by voters in Tuesday's Democratic Primary.

A win by incumbent Judge Diane Y. Devlin and the election is over, since she already has four lines and a win in the primary would leave her without opposition.

Devlin, appointed to fill a vacancy by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello in January, is seeking election to a full 10-year term and has the backing of the Democratic Party as well as the Republican, Conservative, Liberal and Independence endorsements.

She is being challenged by two men with contrasting styles.

Judicial races usually are genteel affairs as candidates stress their qualifications, avoid taking a stand on controversial issues and barely acknowledge their opponent's existence.

Such is the campaign of David L. Edmunds Jr., a partner in the firm of Damon & Morey, who stresses his 21 years experience and distinguished record of service to the community.

The other candidate, James A. Ciminelli, while not exactly making waves, is rocking the boat a bit.

He says he was shunned by the Democratic establishment when he sought the endorsement -- not even getting the courtesy of an interview.

"But I know I'm better qualified, so I went to the people (and gathered the necessary petition signatures) so that they would have a choice," he said.

And he takes a shot at Devlin in her role as Housing Court judge saying, "She tears down buildings that don't need to be torn down, while I help to rebuild them (through his work with Habitat for Humanity and other community groups). I'm very proud of that."

Later, he added, "If someone had been appointed with more experience and a proven commitment to the city and would do a better job than me, I wouldn't be running."

Devlin declined to respond to Ciminelli saying only, "I'm the best qualified person and the only one with judicial experience."

She said she has handled more than 7,500 cases in Housing Court and has taken a pro-active role on housing and quality of life issues through community involvement.

When necessary she has ordered emergency demolitions of unsafe properties, fined and jailed chronic code violators and addressed numerous groups to educate the public on how to use the court system, she said.

If elected, "I would like to continue in Housing Court," she said. "If we can improve the quality of housing and the quality of life in neighborhoods, the crime rate will go down."

There is a long way to go to improve the quality of housing in the city, she said. "It didn't get in this shape overnight, and it's not going to be corrected overnight."

Each of the candidates sought to use the issue of endorsements to their advantage.

Edmunds noted that he is the only candidate "rated by my peers" in the Erie County Bar Association as "well-qualified" for the post, while Devlin and Ciminelli were rated "qualified."

Devlin said she doesn't know what criteria the bar association used to establish the ratings and pointed to her endorsement by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association "as the strongest endorsement a judge can have."

Ciminelli sought to make his lack of endorsements a plus, saying "I don't owe favors to anyone and can be an independent, true Democrat."

Asked if he might not be the underdog, he replied, "I don't consider myself an underdog, but the community does."

Edmunds, who in 1993 was under consideration for appointment as U.S. attorney for Western New York, has been mentioned as a possible contender for a spot on the City Court bench for more than 10 years.

In 1998 he finished a close fourth in a four-way Democratic primary for two City Court posts and has the backing of the Grassroots political organization.

"I'm the most experienced in the practice of law and have a long record of involvement in the community and legal community," he said.

"I have a reputation for having the judicial attributes: knowledge of the law, temperance, fairness and impartiality."

He said he believes judges "should be people with a great deal of courtroom experience. They should know how a trial should be conducted and how a courtroom should be run."

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