Antonacci, the former Onondaga County comptroller, says he’s qualified to be a state Supreme Court judge. Yet, he’s the only one of five candidates in November’s election not to submit to the Onondaga County Bar Association or the Onondaga County Women’s Bar Association ratings processes.
All four of the other candidates in the “pick three” election have been rated as “qualified” by the county bar association, said judiciary chair Jean Marie Westlake. Separately, those four have also been rated “qualified” or “highly qualified” by the women’s bar, said judicial screening co-chair Kelsey Shannon.
Westlake said the overwhelming majority of state Supreme Court candidates in the past decade have submitted to the county bar’s ratings process, which is decided by a panel of lawyers. All sitting Supreme Court justices in Syracuse were rated by the county bar at the time of their elections, she said.
. As campaigning permits I will be reaching out to the remaining voluntary screening processes offered,” he said.
But he lost a bid to strike down then-County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s pay raise. The legislature gave itself a pay raise nine months later, anyway, and the court contest cost taxpayers $500,000 in legal fees.
He hasn’t argued in court since the pay-raise lawsuit.
He’s never been a full-time lawyer.
So far, his public life has revolved around his career as an accountant, even running for statewide comptroller in 2014.
Lahm, in practice for more than 40 years, said he favors judges who have “been in the trenches” as trial lawyers themselves. Lahm, a Democrat who was on the committee that named Antonacci’s opponents this fall, noted that he has supported other Republicans, including current local Chief Administrative Judge Jim Murphy.
“There’s a steep learning curve” on the bench, Lahm said. “My preference is to have experienced people.
But one of Antonacci’s opponents in the pay-raise lawsuit praised his qualifications. Bob Julian, a former state Supreme Court justice himself, represented Mahoney in her successful fight against Antonacci’s lawsuit.
“I found him to be a skilled advocate, knowledgeable in regard to the law,” Julian said. “He writes well.
He has a very good temperament. All of those are important components for a judge.
Julian, a Republican, pointed to Antonacci’s experience in public service and accounting as beneficial for a judge who could handle complex commercial, personal injury, divorce or contract cases. Julian recalled a two-day seminar for judges on the accounting part of deciding cases.
“His training as an accountant is very useful,” Julian said, adding: “I am a believer that public service is excellent training for the bench.
“It’s a choice he’s made and it’s something he’s going to have to explain, if there’s such an issue.”
But he called it unfair to hold his 12 years of public service as comptroller and state senator against him because it would have been unethical to take legal clients while doing those jobs, he said.
After graduating summa cum laude in 1993, he opened a private practice as both accountant and lawyer. A day after passing the bar, he appeared in court for a client on a drunken-driving case, he said.
For the next decade, he’d parlay a tax-return client into a legal client, and vice versa, he said.
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