By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO April 12, 2002 Town of Mamakating Justice Joel Welsh was about ready to throw the book at a whole lot of people Wednesday evening.
You know, I was lied to. There was a conspiracy here, he stated to a room full of more than 50 people at Dannys in Wurtsboro. Im going to take that up in my courtroom!
Then, after a brief smile, he said, I feel totally inadequate tonight. I thank you all . . . and I salute you all.
So what lie could a group of 50 people perpetrate on the town justice and yet still get away with it?
Simple. Just tell him that hell be part of a group of judges being honored at the local restaurant and then surprise him with making him the focus and star of the entire evening.
We all have a special place in our heart for him, said Robert Cordani, the sergeant-at-arms for Lodge #50 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which created this Judicial Recognition Night. Everybody who knows him always says hes a great guy.
Indeed, from plaques and commendations for Welsh to flowers for his wife Joan, it was obvious that the Welshes had made a significant impact on the community theyve called home since 1959. (For Joan Meyers Welsh, its actually been home for her entire life.)
Accolades focused on Joel Welshs 27 years on the local bench, where he gained an unrivaled reputation.
He has been a benchmark of judicial competency, said Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda, whos known and worked with Welsh for 25 years. You were always assured of getting fair treatment, and you cant pay a judge a higher compliment than saying hes fair.
Hes always been a good guy, always fair, added LaBudas son Kurt, who is a 23-year-old Army soldier stationed in Texas and a friend of the Welshes.
Ive known him 30 or 40 years, remarked local attorney Gary Greenwald, and he is one of the most honest individuals Ive ever known. He puts the i in integrity.
Greenwald, a former mayor of Wurtsboro, said Welsh epitomizes the very spirit of town justices.
When you go into his court . . . you come out with the feeling that you had a very fair shake, he explained. The respect for him is almost legendary . . . and most importantly, hes my very dear friend.
Greenwald, however, added that Welshs best accomplishment was marrying Joan and Joel Welsh agreed without hesitation.
In fact, the couple was given yet another standing ovation when it was mentioned that their 43rd wedding anniversary was the next day Thursday, April 11.
And according to Welsh, Joan was the reason the Middletown native and 35-year Orange and Rockland Utilities employee moved to Sullivan County.
When I saw Wurtsboro for the first time, I fell in love with it, he said, adding that his great-grandfather Luke was born there in 1852 and was a mule guide on the D&H Canal at the age of 9.
For 23 years, Joel Welsh also served as the Village of Wurtsboros justice (that court has since been abolished), and Joan recently retired as his court clerk after a 26-year run.
Im very interested in the job of the law, said Joel Welsh, adding that hes handled cases from bald tires to murder. I hope I helped a lot of people and have taken crime out of the community. Honest, hardworking people deserve to know the people who break the law should pay. Theyre entitled to that protection.
And according to numerous fans, Welsh has done and continues to do just that.
Judge Welsh is the foundation of the system of justice we have in New York, said County Clerk George Cooke. To come here this evening and show our appreciation is very important.
We thought we should do something for him, said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #50 Acting President Al Timins. Our whole purpose of being is to support the law enforcement community . . . and his record speaks for itself.
Welsh, in what was described as his typical modesty, said in response, I dont think I deserve this. I hope I can live up to it. Ive tried to do the job you folks have asked me to do.
His family citing Joels participation in everything from the Wurtsboro Fire Department to youth baseball coaching to St. Josephs Church (where he can be heard singing occasionally, rumor has it) seemed as satisfied with that job (or jobs) as the rest of the crowd.
We think its wonderful, said son Tom and wife Jessica, who were present with their 15-month-old daughter Jacqueline and are expecting another baby soon. (Tom has one sister, Barbara, who lives in Binghamton and was unable to attend.)
I think this is absolutely marvelous, said Joan Welsh, who shed a few tears during the evening while watching her husband being feted. He is fair, he is available, and he treats everyone the same.