Judges are demigods within their areas of jurisdiction. Only judges in higher courts have the power to change what a judge does. Any misapplication of justice, inadvertent or otherwise, stays in effect for as long as it takes an appeal to reach a higher court.
The selection and election of our judges is a critical step to ensure everyone is guaranteed equal justice under the law. The integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament of the people we elect to the bench must be beyond reproach.
And that makes the election this year of a Chautauqua County Court judge an easy choice.
From his 35-year career serving the public, voters know without doubt that incumbent Judge John Ward is the embodiment of the even-tempered, professionally competent jurist we can trust to dispense justice.
We also know the challenger in this election, William Coughlin of Fredonia, is most certainly not the person in whom we should vest the mighty power of the County Court judge.
The County Court judge handles criminal cases that arise from grand jury felony indictments. Trials, pleadings, hearings, sentencing - the County Court handles it all.
John Ward has been County Court judge since 1993. He was elected to a second 10-year term in 2002. Before that, Ward served the people of Chautauqua County as an assistant district attorney (D.A.) under the late D.A. Paul King and then as the elected district attorney for 15 years.
William Coughlin started his legal career in the Erie County District Attorney's Office. He then worked in the Chautauqua County district attorney's office under James Subjack. He was appointed public defender in 2002 and held that job for nine years. He works now as managing attorney at Buffalo Legal Aid.
As you read earlier this fall, Coughlin's record reveals a man who, in temperament and conduct, is wholly unsuited to carry the mantle of judicial power.
In a series of reprimands and outright warnings written to Coughlin by his boss at the time, District Attorney James Subjack, and then by the legislature chairman when Coughlin was public defender, we see a man who is repeatedly disrespectful toward women and who cannot control his temper.
In a telling communication, Subjack wrote Coughlin about a complaint of how Coughlin dealt with a female employee over a telephone message she had relayed, ordering him to enroll in an anger management program.
"As you know," Subjack wrote, "you have been the subject of a good number of complaints to me by other district attorney employees, other county employees, police officers and members of the general public. Some of those complaints are justified, some of them are not."
A year later after an incident involving Coughlin and a woman who served on a grand jury, Subjack wrote demanding to know whether Coughlin had taken the anger management training as ordered or whether something more was needed "in order to get your anger and your mouth under control."
Several months after that, Subjack wrote Coughlin again about two complaints of inappropriate conduct during a trial. One of the complaints was from a female cable news reporter who said Coughlin made an "inappropriate comment" regarding her anatomy.
"Surely, if such a story were to ever air, it would be extremely unlikely that you would be appointed public defender either in this round or ever again," Subjack wrote to Coughlin.
County legislators did, indeed, appoint him public defender. The very next year, Democrat Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom had to write to Coughlin about two complaints of sexual harassment filed by women in the Public Defender's Office.
Today Coughlin says he took the anger management training and has changed his ways. He said he wonders why his record is being brought up now that he is running for County Court judge.
It is because regardless of whether he has his anger under control, anger has nothing to do with his record of harassing women.
That behavior stems from an entirely different place in a man's character, and that man has no business being a judge.
John Ward wields the formidable power of County Court judge with grace, humility, an even hand and competence. He has disposed of some 10,000 cases in his 20 years on the bench. Only nine have been reversed on appeal.
Let's keep him on the job.
We strongly urge you to re-elect Judge John Ward on Nov. 6.