Town Justice 2015 Endorsement: Brian Hughes

10/29/2015 4:56 AM |
Brian Hughes.

Brian Hughes.

When he ran for judge in 2013, Mattituck attorney William Goggins was by far the more aggressive candidate. He spoke passionately about the need to reform the Justice Court by creating administrative efficiencies and making it safer.

This time around, he spoke again of those ideas but was more passive in his approach than his opponent, attorney Brian Hughes of Southold, who ran a much more assertive campaign.

One reason for the change in Mr. Goggins’ tone could be the result of the last election, which he lost by more than 1,400 votes to longtime incumbent William Price of Greenport. More likely, it’s that he’s not facing an incumbent this time around, but rather a more low-profile attorney with a smaller private practice than his own. He’s also running on a Republican ticket loaded with popular incumbents. He hasn’t had to get loud this year.

Except there’s one thing that happened within the Southold Town Justice Court last year that should have everyone screaming and yelling: the theft of more than $230,000 from the town’s bail fund by a since-convicted court clerk. On this issue, Mr. Hughes has been by far the more vocal candidate and the one who appears best suited to do something about the fundamental flaws that may have led to the theft not being discovered sooner. He questioned why the findings of an audit of the Justice Court have not yet been made public and called out the town’s sitting judges and supervisor for allowing the thefts to occur on their watch. Mr. Goggins declined to lay blame and said he’s not concerned about the status of the audit.

Mr. Hughes, unlike Mr. Goggins, also said he’d abandon his private practice to make serving as town justice a full-time job. He’s vowed to use his administrative experience and the skills he obtained investigating and prosecuting government corruption to bring much-needed order to the court. Both candidates expressed frustration with how disorganized court paperwork appears to be, but only Mr. Hughes said he’d put in the hours himself to improve the situation.

Mr. Hughes also said he’d actively pursue replacing Judge Price when he steps down from the East End Drug Court next year, something Mr. Goggins wouldn’t commit to.

Finally, our editorial board found it curious that Mr. Goggins now says he believes he can work well with Mr. Price for the two years they would have to share the court. For more than a decade, Mr. Price has recused himself from every case on which Mr. Goggins has appeared before him due to a professional flap they once had as attorneys representing different parties in a real estate transaction.

With the loss of Justice Rudolf Bruer, who did not seek re-election this year, the town would benefit from someone who can work with Mr. Price during the remainder of what he has said will be his last term. Otherwise a lot of valuable institutional knowledge could be lost.

We agree with both of this year’s candidates that change is long overdue in Southold Town Justice Court — and we believe Mr. Hughes is the candidate best equipped to deliver real results.