It’s clear to anyone who’s spent time in various courtrooms across Suffolk County that the Southold Town Justice Court operates differently from all the others.
It’s not uncommon for a family member of someone who was arrested on a Saturday night to show up at the Southold court Monday morning and have to wait until the early afternoon for their relative’s arraignment.
If you ask what the hold up is, you’ll often be told, “We’re waiting for the judge.”
That’s how Justice William Price has chosen to operate his courtroom. For some folks, it’s no bother. For others, it’s a nuisance. Attorney William Goggins, Judge Price’s Republican opponent in Tuesday’s election for Town Justice, falls into the latter category.
Efficiency, he says, is the number one reason he’s running.
As a go-to attorney in Southold Town for more than two decades, Mr. Goggins spends as much time in Southold’s courtroom as just about anyone not named Price or Bruer (the last name of the other town justice). He doesn’t like what he sees. He says not only are attorneys, clients and family members often kept waiting for court to begin at an unscheduled time — even for some arrests in which most jurisdictions would issue the defendant an appearance ticket — he also believes the way defendants are walked across the entire courtroom before a proceeding creates a safety hazard for everyone in attendance. He says he’d like to create a holding area closer to the side entrance, away from the public, which he suggested might also make things easier for the town police officers who escort the men and women in and out of the court.
Mr. Goggins also told Suffolk Times editors the courtroom could use a technological upgrade. “Southold is the only courtroom I’m ever in that doesn’t have computers inside the courtroom,” he said. The purchase of just one computer could create efficiencies for the court clerk and the judge, he said.
But what’s made this year’s justice race more interesting than most races — in the eyes of many who follow such things — is an old rift that has divided the candidates for the past decade. Following a real estate transaction in which the men represented different parties, Mr. Goggins sent Mr. Price a letter of complaint about the way Mr. Price handled the transaction. Ever since, in his capacity as judge, Mr. Price has declined to hear Mr. Goggins’ cases, according to both candidates. Rather than risk an accusation of bias should he rule against Mr. Goggins’ client, those matters are transferred to Justice Bruer’s calendar.
Mr. Goggins says he was approached twice by Republicans about running for Town Justice but refused both times before finally accepting the nomination this spring.
For Mr. Price, also a Republican, this meant being abandoned by the party that has nominated him for eight four-year terms dating back to 1981. He says he was dropped from the ticket because he’s fiercely independent.
Instead, he’s running on the Democratic and Working Families lines this year. A judge with 32 years in the courtroom and a mostly favorable reputation, he has certainly added some much needed experience to the Democratic ticket. It’s been 24 years since Democrats have even run someone against Mr. Price, who first won his post in 1981 by 61 percent of the vote and saw his popularity grow to 69 and 70 percent in his next two elections before running unopposed to win his five most recent terms. For the person who always votes Democratic, but hasn’t had a choice since 1989, the veteran judge is a perfectly fine option.
But for the conflicted Republican, or the independent voter who turns to a local newspaper for guidance on Election Day, we’re endorsing Mr. Goggins this year.
The case can be made for a vote for Mr. Price based on his judicial experience but such a vote also represents support of the status quo inside a stagnant Southold Town Justice Court that operates at the sleepy pace of its senior judge. Ironically, Mr. Price pledged to make the Southold Town Justice Court more accessible in his very first Suffolk Times election preview advertisement in 1981.
Mr. Goggins boasts experience not as a town justice but rather as a hard-working attorney who can modernize our town court by introducing systems he’s seen work in other places. We trust he’ll have the support of Mr. Bruer, also a Republican — and a town justice for 18 years — to make our town court more, well, accessible.
A vote for Mr. Goggins signifies a desire for change in a courtroom we believe is in need of a little shaking up.