Western New York has a judiciary of uneven quality, an assessment widely held by the legal community here. Fortunately, the choices in this year's judicial elections are all good ones, likely to -- pardon the pun -- raise the bar.
Three candidates are running for two State Supreme Court positions, and all three seem able to perform well in that state-level, largely civil court.
Incumbent State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek is running for a second 14-year term, and carries the endorsement of both major parties. He is a well-regarded judge who has served well, and has earned the respect of lawyers. He also has earned the right to continue in office, and we urge readers to cast one of their votes for him.
A second judgeship opened this fall with the resignation of State Supreme Court Justice Amy Fricano. The race has drawn two experienced lawyers, Tracey A. Bannister on the Democratic Party line and Jeffrey F. Voelkl on the Republican line. We endorse Voelkl.
Both have solid credentials, and the choice comes down to this: Is it more important for a judge to have spent years trying a variety of cases at varying levels of courts, or to have extensive experience in research, decision-writing and court management as a State Supreme Court and Appellate Court law clerk?
Both are valuable starting points for a State Supreme Court judgeship, but in our view Voelkl's experience in trying cases is an important edge. With his additional service as an acting City Court judge since 2005, trying more than 2,000 cases last year, he deserves election to this office.
Voelkl has 16 years of experience as a trial lawyer, and has served as a village judge in Williamsville since 2003. He knows his way around a courtroom, and also understands the needs of lawyers in dealing with the courts. He merits the chance to put that experience to work in State Supreme Court.
Bannister, too, could fill that role -- and has had practical experience as the 20-year principal law clerk to Justice Jerome Gorski both in State Supreme Court and Appellate Court, where she was a key researcher and writer in the kind of cases this judgeship handles. She considers his mentoring invaluable, and many lawyers would agree that the key post of law clerk provides important experience.
But Bannister, now also a Kenmore village court judge, was a practicing attorney for only four years before becoming a law clerk, and that contributes to what we see as Voelkl's edge.
There are other judicial races this year, but the candidates are unopposed. Judge Michael F. Petruszka is running for re-election to Erie County Court, Lisa Bloch Rodwin garnered all the lines in the Family Court race and Judge James A.W. MacLeod is unopposed for re-election to City Court.
Endorsements by the editorial board are intended to aid voters in their own evaluations of those seeking office. Whether you agree or disagree with our recommendations, we urge you to vote and take part in our democratic process.