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Filer and Lester Square Off for Town Justice

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 11:27

Does anyone have a strong opinion about voting for a judge? They’re often cross-endorsed by both major political parties and cannot take stands on issues that many voters consider when they enter the voting booth. You won’t hear a judicial candidate trashing his or her opponent, either. Voters are told to consider their experience and “judicial temperament.”

Subtlety prevails.

The East Hampton Town Justice race to replace Lisa R. Rana, who, after 20 years on the bench, is retiring, pits David Filer, running as a Democrat, against Brian Lester on the Republican ticket. Both men are fathers, both boast of family ties tracing back to East Hampton’s earliest settlers, and both have had long careers in the law.

Mr. Lester has been practicing in East Hampton for 26 years and is a co-founder and partner at Tarbet & Lester, P.L.L.C. He has been the East Hampton Village prosecutor since 2007 and the Sag Harbor Village prosecutor since 2013. As a hearing officer for both East Hampton and Southampton Towns, he may act as a quasi-judge during disciplinary hearings. He was also a part-time East Hampton Village police officer from 1994-2007 (he has been endorsed by the P.B.A.). In 1997, he graduated from Hofstra Law School, where he was editor of the Hofstra Law Review.

“I know the East Hampton Justice Court,” he said in a recent phone call. “I’m there on a weekly basis. I know the issues. I’ve handled them all, that’s why I think my experience is well suited for the town justice position.”

Mr. Filer grew up in East Hampton, graduating from high school here before getting his law degree from Brooklyn Law School, in 2002. He spent 16 years as an assistant district attorney, under Robert Morgenthau, in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, before moving back to East Hampton in 2018 (living on the land his grandfather once farmed), and becoming a partner at Whalen Filer, P.L.L.C.. “You have to leave your hometown,” he said in a recent interview. “Working under Robert Morgenthau was one of the big things that shaped the attorney I’ve become. He was a great public servant known for training prosecutors to do the right thing, no matter where the evidence took you, without fear or favor.”

“The office prosecutes all of the crime on the island of Manhattan,” he continued, “from the lowest level, like shoplifting, but also violent crime, domestic violence, and sex crimes. We worked closely with the police department. You get some sense of human nature, both good and bad. The good is when you get a sense that you’ve provided someone with some sense of justice, of closure.”

“Working in a system like that, it colors how you look at people and how you work with people. You better have some compassion, or you’re in the wrong place. But you also have to follow the law, look at the facts, and then do the right thing. It’s a world of many shades of gray.”

“The motivating idea behind running was to use all of this experience and bring it back to my hometown.” he said. “This is not a job that comes up often.”

Mr. Lester said he wants to be a town justice because he thinks it can benefit the community, and he has long given back to his community. He’s a driver for both the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Department and the Springs Fire Department, and has coached Little League. “People’s interaction with the government is limited, but a lot of times, it’s through the Justice Court, but it is a community interaction.”

“Most people that have dealt with me would say I am fair and have a level temperament,” Mr. Lester added. “I’ve looked at the way our local judges operate, as well as those in the Suffolk County Supreme Court.” Watching judges in action, he said, has taught him what makes an effective judge. “You have to listen to what people are saying, they want to be heard. They feel a certain way, whether it’s about a speeding ticket or a civil matter. To apply to law properly, a judge must listen to and understand what people are saying.”

“The most important thing about anybody who wants to be a judge, you need to have the appropriate disposition,” said Mr. Filer. “It’s not about how much law you know, it’s how you treat people, independent and unbiased, hear both sides, and be respectful.”

“This community is certainly changing. It’s become a much more diverse and busy place than it used to be. The court will require an increasing level of sophistication to analyze the conflicts that arise and the criminal cases.”

Both men went through a screening process: Mr. Filer with the East Hampton Democratic Committee and Mr. Lester with the East Hampton Republicans and the Suffolk County Bar Association Judicial Committee.

East Hampton Town has two justices, who serve four-year terms. Their elections are staggered, so only one candidate is running every two years. Whoever wins this race won’t have to run again until 2027. Justice Steven Tekulsky, who is now on the bench, will be up for election again in 2025.

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