Election season is in full swing and we have some excellent candidates running for local office here in Mt. Pleasant. We want you to get to know them so we’ve done interviews with Francesca Hagadus-McHale and Laura DiVenere who are running for Town Board and with Elizabeth Smith who is running for Town Justice. We’ve asked them to help us better understand the parts of town government they want to join as well as to introduce themselves to all of you.
We will post one candidate interview each week through email, the IP website, and IP’s Facebook page. We are beginning with Liz Smith and we hope you find these interviews helpful.
IP: Elizabeth Smith is running for Mt. Pleasant town justice and this is her first foray into political waters. Hi, Liz. We talked when you were first getting your campaign started and you helped educate me about our town court. If I hadn’t been called for town jury duty years ago I doubt that I would have known we have a town court and I’m sure I’m not alone. Please give our members a brief overview of what the town court is and what the town justice does.
Elizabeth Smith: Karin, I have to first thank you and Indivisible Pleasantville for this opportunity. Your time is very valuable and I appreciate that you are spending it with me.
The Town Justice Court is a lower court, and has jurisdiction over civil matters under $3,000 and misdemeanors and violations that occur within the Town. A person accused of a felony (a serious crime punishable by over one year in prison) may also be arraigned in Town Justice Court. An arraignment is when a person accused of a serious crime appears before the Court to hear the charges against him or her and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. The trials of these types of cases are heard by the Westchester County Court located in White Plains. A Town Justice also has the power to solemnize marriages and administer oaths.
IP: What in your background and experience make you a good match for this position?
ES: As I shared with you and a few IP members, my grandfather was murdered when I was 8 years old. He was attacked in the elevator of his apartment building. He was a Local 3 elevator operator. September 13th marks the 33rd anniversary of his death.
This experience tore my family apart and thrust us into the court system. I joined my mother, a victim advocate, in candlelight vigils, protests outside the Governor’s office and at conferences for Parents of Murdered Children, Survivors of Homicide, NYS Office of Victim Assistance (formerly NYS Crime Victims Board) and MADD. Andy Warhol said “They say time changes things but you actually have to change them yourself.” I had a choice. I chose to honor my grandfather’s legacy in the best way I knew how - to use this experience to help others.
That is how I came to study Criminal Justice and Law. I have been practicing for 15 years. I spent three years as the sole associate at a busy law firm in White Plains. I represented clients in civil, matrimonial, criminal and surrogate court proceedings as well as election law and liquor licensing matters. In 2007, I joined the Unified Court System where I have worked for the last twelve years. In this role I have written over 2,000 decisions, settled hundreds of cases and assisted with countless hearings and trials.
I know firsthand the impact Court’s have on individuals and their families. I know the frustration of feeling that your side of the story was never heard. I know the importance of applying the correct law to the facts of the case in making a decision. I believe that my personal and professional experience makes me a good match for this position. I have experience from virtually all sides of the bench. This has given me a unique perspective that I would use to make a meaningful impact on the Town of Mount Pleasant.
IP: Why do you want to be the Mount Pleasant town justice?
ES: I believe I would do the job well. I have always been active in my community and I can think of no better way to serve the Town of Mount Pleasant.
IP: I understand that candidates for judgeships are limited in what they can say about the future, but what else would you like us to know about you?
ES: I live in Hawthorne with my husband and four sons. Three of the four attend school in the Mount Pleasant Central School District. My fourth is just starting Pre-K this year! I am the First Vice President of the Ninth Judicial Court Employees Association, representing over 300 court employees in Westchester and Rockland. I am also the Librarian of my chapter of the Daughter of the American Revolution and volunteer with my parish in the Religious Education Department and Parish Council.
You can find more information about me, my endorsements and follow me on the campaign trail at http://www.electelizabethsmith.com, on Facebook at “Friends of Elizabeth Smith” and on IG @SmithForJustice.
IP: Liz, I think we all know more about our town court than we did before. Thanks and good luck to you.