McAuliffe, Smrtic face off in primaries

JOHNSTOWN –Two experienced litigants will be battling it out in a Fulton County Family Court judicial showdown in three political primaries Thursday in the county’s only local races.

Local attorneys Gerard McAuliffe and Michael W. Smrtic will face each other in Republican, Independence and Conservative primaries for Family Court judge. Registered voters in those parties will cast their votes from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday.

Even if McAuliffe lost all three primaries, his name will still be on a ballot in three spots for the general election, which is Nov. 6. McAuliffe will be on the Green, Reform and Women’s Equality Party lines for that ballot.

Current Family Court Judge Edward F. Skoda previously announced he is retiring at the end of 2018. The judgeship is for 10 years.

McAuliffe, a town of Perth resident, has served as Fulton County public defender since 1996. From 1992 to 1996, he was an assistant public defender. He maintains a private law practice with offices at the Johnstown Professional Office Complex on East Main Street in Johnstown.

Smrtic, of Johnstown, who a has a private law practice on North Main Street in Gloversville, has held the position of assistant Fulton County attorney for over 10 years. Those duties have included prosecution of juveniles in Family Court, as well as handling all of the persons in need of supervision cases.

The Leader-Herald this week interviewed both McAuliffe and Smrtic, asking the candidates the same questions. One of the questions was about the new Raise the Age Law. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on April 10, 2017 signed legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York state from 16 to 18 years old. Young people aged 16 and 17 will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails.

In no particular order, the candidates’ responses follow:

∫ McAuliffe:

McAuliffe says the best experience that suits him for the Family Court judgeship is his “daily interaction with clients.”

“That coupled with the partnerships that I’ve formed as Fulton County public defender,” he said.

Partnerships with groups such as probation and community services have served him well and allowed him to take the next step toward further service to Family Court, he said.

Asked how Family Court can be changed, McAuliffe said that it is most important for anyone running for judge to ask them to follow the law.

“That’s the most important aspect,” he said.

He said he’s aware of family treatment courts that are available.

With the new Raise the Age Law, McAuliffe said Family Court will play an important role.

“There will be additional responsibilities,’ he said.

McAuliffe said he’s been involved in a committee that encompasses various sectors in the community, such as the Department of Social Services and law enforcement. He said he’s participated in meetings involving all the stakeholders connected with the new law.

“I’ve been thoroughly briefed,” McAuliffe said.

The candidate was asked why he wants to take on the responsibilities of Family Court judge at this time.

“I became a lawyer to help other people,” McAuliffe said. “I truly believe my experience, temperament and demeanor can help every man, woman and child who goes through the Family Court system in the next 10 years.”

McAuliffe said families in Fulton County have changed over the years because of the opioid crisis. He said it is a “distinct challenge” for all of the Family Court stakeholders now and in the future.

“I believe my temperament will be a true asset to every man, woman and child that goes through the Family Court,” McAuliffe said.

∫ Smrtic:

“The experience I’ve had in Family Court” is the greatest asset he will bring to the judgeship, Smrtic said.

He said he has been through hundreds of cases and always puts in the time.

“You can say you have the experience, but the people who are there know whether you are there every day,” Smrtic said. He said Family Court involves much “case-driven” law. He said as a litigant in such a court, you have to follow through the cases.

In answering how Fulton County Family Court has changed over the years, he also noted that with Raise the Age “we’re going to have a new group of young adults.

“A lot of the kids are already involved in drug use and all the crimes that go along with it,” Smrtic said.

He said he wouldn’t mind a change in which a “treatment court” is created in which the youth involved get help, along with other family members.

Smrtic said he has often heard children crying out with comments such as “my mom and dad never hug me.” He said more and more cases will be going through probation.

On Raise the Age, Smrtic said by serving as judge he will be in a different role. He said there is a difference between being hired to represent someone, and serving as a judge where your “sole job” is to represent the person in court.

Smrtic said he can draw from his experience of his first marriage in knowing “on a personal level” what it is like for children to go through a divorce. He said the breakup of a family can involve “broken homes” and changed lives.

“It changes kids,” Smrtic said.

He said judges in family court situations have opportunities to force parents to communicate better.

In the way that families have changed over the years, he states: “Now you see families that are split that don’t have any cohesiveness.”

Asked how he would assess his temperament for the bench, Smrtic answers: “People know me.”

“I’m hoping people will recognize that and I’ll be treated with respect,” Smrtic said.

Smrtic said he knows the law and will fairly listen to each side in Family Court.

“Ultimately, I will have to do what is best for the children,” he said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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