An Erie County Family Court judge appointed by the governor in the spring and a former judge who oversaw an innovative program in the domestic affairs court are waging the hottest local judicial race this year.
In a county with a 117,000-vote Democrat edge, Judge Deborah A. Haendiges, 46, who was appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki in May, is seeking a 10-year term on the Republican and Independence lines in Tuesday's voting. This is her first run for elective office.
Margaret Olszewski Szczur, 50, is trying to regain the Family Court seat she lost last year and get a second full term.
Olszewski Szczur has been working for the past year as a Family Court attorney-referee with foster care, custody and visitation matters and referring cases to a judge if she finds trials warranted.
A registered Democrat, she is running on the Democratic, Conservative and Working Families lines.
Olszewski Szczur was the first judge to head Family Court's innovative Family Treatment Court section, which is designed to assist families with drug and alcohol problems and shorten the stays of children in foster care.
She has worked as that specialized court section's attorney-referee this year.
One of the top prosecutors in the Erie County district attorney's office for 15 years before she successfully ran for Family Court 11 years ago, she has a bachelor's degree from Manhattanville College and a law degree from Syracuse University College of Law.
A Hamburg resident, she is the wife of retired Buffalo Police Officer James C. Szczur and a past president of the Women Lawyers of Western New York and the Advocates Club of Western New York.
She also is a former board member of both Children's Place of Western New York and the St. Thomas More Guild and is a member of the New York State and National Drug Court Professionals organizations.
Haendiges, a former partner for matrimonial and family law in a Kenmore law firm, was often appointed a law guardian for children by judges before she took the bench herself.
The Town of Tonawanda native and Amherst resident was for years a volunteer attorney representing low-income clients through the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project.
She has a degree in mathematics from the University at Buffalo and a law degree from UB Law School. She is married to energy engineer Michael Haendiges.
Haendiges is chairwoman of the Erie County Bar Association's Practice and Procedure in Family Court Committee. She has often lectured on and submitted written briefs on divorce and Family Court issues at continuing legal education conferences.
A former treasurer and board member of the Women's Bar Association of Western New York, she has served as president of the board of directors of Amherst's Willowridge Civic Association.
The Erie County Bar Association has rated both candidates "well qualified." The Western New York Chapter of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York rated both highly qualified.