This election season, Stephen Grossman is taking on Republican incumbent East Hampton Town Justice, Lisa R. Rana, running on the Democratic party line, and offering a decidedly different vision of how the court system should be structured.
An alumnus of Colgate University and New York University Law School, Mr. Grossman has worked as a public defender in Mineola but has spent the majority of his career, 30 years, running his own private practice, Stephen Grossman and Associates, in Sag Harbor.
Mr. Grossman first ran against Ms. Rana in 2003, in what he called a “lackluster campaign.”
“Justice Court is the most important court, because it’s where most people get their taste of what court is about,” he said. “Why do people have to give up a day’s work for a traffic ticket? It’s a waste of a resources. If I’m going to leave an imprint on this community, I’d like to create a court that could be a model, something we could be proud of.”
His opponent, a second-generation East End native raised in Amagansett, is running for her third four-year term on the Republican, Independence, Conservative, and Opportunity Party lines. Ms. Rana is also the acting Sag Harbor Village justice, supporting Andrea Schiavoni in helping the fledgling court, which opened last December, run smoothly.
Ms. Rana said this year’s election has been extraordinarily busy in comparison to previous campaigns. “It seems as though there have been a lot more political events occurring,” she said. “As a candidate, I try to go to as many as I can to give people opportunities to meet me. I don’t get a chance to interact with the public very often.”
Mr. Grossman said the court “could be run a lot better,” especially with regard to town code violations and with the scheduling of court dates. He said that while he would be happy to win and he wants people to vote for him, his biggest concern is that the court adopt his proposed changes.
“I think there should be an emphasis on dealing with town code violations promptly,” he said. “In regard to the situation out in Montauk, I would bring everyone together and work it out, and not accept it. The town attorney has said correctly that there isn’t enough in these building code violations to get an injunction. But, if [the situation] is what they say it is, you move to ‘abate a nuisance,’ and get 50 affidavits. Be creative. Push the envelope to the edge. The town has to act on behalf of the citizens — they shouldn’t have to hire their own lawyer.”
Ms. Rana believes that despite a 25-percent reduction in the clerical staff, including a Spanish-speaking clerk who left in December 2009 and another who chose to leave under the terms of a state retirement incentive in the fall of 2010, everyone has done a “magnificent job” in maintaining the court’s functionality.
“Big changes are not fiscally prudent at this time,” she said. “We’re trying to keep our heads above water. We moved into this new facility and have the capacity to house a new judge if that time comes. We secured funding for court security without any cost to the taxpayers. That was a big step for us. We’ve done a lot with a little. I think we managed the transition into a leaner department pretty flawlessly.”
With regard to the second courtroom, built for a future third judge, Mr. Grossman wanted to know why, with statistics showing that East Hampton is the third-busiest justice court in the state, no one works on Fridays.
“It really disturbs me,” he said. Mr. Grossman also criticized the $80,000 put into the 2011 town budget to cover more part-time security staff.
Mr. Grossman also noted that the town justices make more than $75,000 a year, including benefits, but work what he called “half-time,” two weeks on and two weeks off.
“It’s an outrage,” he said. “If the work requires two judges, than two judges should be there. The door clicks open at 9 a.m. and clicks closed at 3:45 p.m. It takes a while to get a trial, and it shouldn’t. I’m doing this because I think it should be done. I promise you it’s not about the court being user-friendly, it’s about wanting the court to respond to the needs of the community.”
Ms. Rana remains confident of her reputation on the bench. “I’m a fair judge, and I run a professional courtroom. I really strive to be impartial and fair. I love my job. It’s a great opportunity to make a difference in this community.”