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Courting the vote

Barber touts experience, readiness to serve on Day 1

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — October 22, 2010 — Cindy Barber prides herself on being a fighter.
“I’ve always worked my way up,” she says.
She held her own as one of 13 kids growing up in Grahamsville.
Graduating from Tri-Valley in 1975, she spent the next decade working various jobs, which included a rise from cashier to front-end manager at the former Victory supermarket in Liberty, then climbing into the executive ranks of the Rhulen Agency, a local insurance company.
As the first in her family to go the full distance through college, Barber graduated first in her class at Sullivan County Community College, went on to earn two bachelor’s from Syracuse University in psychology and English, then capped it off with a cum laude degree in law from Syracuse U. in 1994.
She clerked for a Family Court judge in Syracuse and interned at a law firm in Binghamton, but she chose to return home to Sullivan County, settling in White Lake and starting her own law practice in Monticello.
In 1995, she ran for Bethel Town Justice, winning the first of what would become three successful consecutive election bids.
Barber found yet more time to become Family Court Judge Mark Meddaugh’s confidential attorney, giving him legal advice on cases for six years.
She also became a Family Court hearing examiner and a continuing education teacher to local judges, the latter of which she remains.
And in a feat increasingly rare these days, she’s still married to her husband Ed, after 33 years.
Now she’s going for the one feat she has yet to accomplish: earning the people’s vote to become Sullivan County Court Judge and Surrogate Burton Ledina’s replacement.
Barber ran against Ledina in 2007, losing by less than 3,000 votes. Ledina, having reached age 70, must now retire, per state law.
But Barber, the Democratic, Working Families and Justice for All candidate, is once again facing a challenge, this time from Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate Michael McGuire.
The 53-year-old remains confident, however.
“I’ve worked on jury selection, Supreme Court and Surrogate Court cases, tax certioraris, writing decisions, appeals,” she relates. “... I feel very comfortable that I can go in there on day one and begin work.”
Citing her varied legal experiences, Barber promises to be a “hands-on, working judge,” one that can do her own research and writing instead of delegating it to staff.
She also wants to be a proactive judge, engaging youth and their families through local nonprofits, heading off problems that would otherwise end up in court.
“Many times,” she said of her experiences representing juvenile delinquents, “you could see it’s the family unit that’s damaged, not the child.”
She vows to streamline court operations, ensuring lawyers and clients aren’t kept waiting.
“I have a history of being on time and moving cases forward,” she remarks. “My primary objective is to be a knowledgeable and efficient judge.”
That said, she’ll require attorneys to be prepared and not waste the court’s time either.
She may see plenty of attorneys, because, if elected, she’ll likely be called upon to fill in at Family Court and the Sullivan County version of state Supreme Court.
In fact, she considers that a key difference between herself and McGuire.
“He only graduated [from law school] eight years ago,” Barber pointed out. “He’s not eligible to take Supreme Court cases for two more years.”
(State law requires Supreme Court justices to have 10 years of experience as attorneys. However, McGuire’s resumé indicates he earned his law degree in May 2001, more than nine years ago.)
Barber, on the other hand, can fill that role immediately, having been an attorney for 16 years.
Barber added she doesn’t like some of McGuire’s campaign statements, including the promotion of his non-lawyer experiences as adequate for the demanding job of county court judge.
Besides, “I think I can more than match whatever experience he claims to have in business,” she relates, referring to her insurance background.
This summer, Barber famously forced McGuire into two primaries – Conservative and Independence – which she indicated would not have been necessary if party bosses had given her interviews.
The Conservative leadership interrupted her nomination speech, says Barber, while the Independence Party didn’t even grant her an interview.
McGuire won both primaries, but Barber points out that a few hundred of approximately 4,000 eligible voters turned out, making McGuire simply “the beneficiary of the political machine.”
Most disturbing to Barber is that Sheriff Michael Schiff is an active participant in McGuire’s campaign, making her wonder how impartial McGuire could be in cases involving the Sheriff’s Office.
She blames that association for the fact that the State Troopers’ and Sheriff’s Office’s PBA endorsements went to McGuire – when in 2007 they had gone to her.
“And I think it gives a chilling effect to some voters,” Barber says, calling McGuire and Schiff’s relationship an “unholy alliance.”
Barber adds that McGuire’s largely sports-oriented background – including his controversial past as Sullivan County Community College’s athletics director – raises questions about his fitness for the judgeship.
“The job is about qualifications, experience, ethics and your demeanor,” she explains. “... I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds more cases than Mike ever did, in courts all over Sullivan County.”
She’s even sent people to jail when she was Bethel town justice, presiding over serious cases involving everything from DWI to sexual assault. She’s also helped with adoption and custody cases and has ensured the innocent either don’t go to or get out of jail.
Barber says she’s familiar with both the public and behind-the-scenes workings of the court system, and she points out she’s once again earned the approval of the NYS Judicial Screening Commission, where more than a dozen professionals reviewed her credentials and performance, even interviewing lawyers she’s opposed in court.
She’s also garnered endorsements from Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, AFL-CIO and the CWA (Verizon workers).
Barber promises she’ll be a judge that listens, then makes decisions with a wisdom born of years on the bench.
“You have to learn how to deal with people,” she explains. “It doesn’t come naturally until you’ve been in that seat.”

McGuire promises dedication, excellence and compassion

By Dan Hust
FERNDALE — Michael “Mike” McGuire has always set his sights high.
“I’ve seen myself, in everything I have done, in working toward leadership positions,” he affirms.
Bronx-born but a Liberty resident for the past decade, the 51-year-old has a notable zeal for challenges, beginning with his days earning a bachelor’s in physical education from Manhattan College.
He followed that up with a master’s from the University of Northern Iowa in 1983, whilst maintaining his service on the board of the Bronx chapter of the Red Cross.
He then headed to St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill to serve as its head athletic trainer, embarking on a sports career that spanned two decades.
In 1986, McGuire was named the director of athletics at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, and four years later he made his way to Sullivan County Community College to helm a similar position.
During his stint with SCCC, the Generals basketball team captured three national championships, and McGuire joined the Northeast League of Professional Baseball as its executive director, growing the league to six teams and increasing the franchise’s value from $50,000 to $1 million.
He was controversially fired from SCCC in 1997, suing and winning for wrongful termination in what he acknowledges was “a rocky road and some very dark times.”
Ironically, the resulting settlement allowed him to afford the Pace University education which ultimately led to his law degree in 2001.
Before that degree was even in hand, Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen saw enough potential in McGuire to put him on the DA’s team.
McGuire found a new hunger and purpose: to ensure laws were followed and rights preserved.
In the meantime, he continued his service to education, this time as a member of the Liberty Central School Board of Education, where he’s now vice president.
In 2004, McGuire set up his own practice in Ferndale, but he never forgot his days as an assistant district attorney, and when Lungen announced his retirement, McGuire was eager to follow in his footsteps.
The Republicans, however, had a star in Lungen’s favored successor, Jim Farrell, and so McGuire eventually bowed out of the race.
But now Sullivan County Court Judge and Surrogate Burton Ledina is retiring (mandated by state law when a judge turns 70), and McGuire has the opportunity to once again take a leadership role.
“I have always put myself in positions where I could maximize service to my community and my profession,” he explains. “... This is the natural culmination of that.”
But he also grants that the voters will make that decision, choosing between him – the Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate – and Democratic, Working Families and Justice for All challenger Cindy Barber.
While he admits much of his background has been in education and sports administration, McGuire has no regrets about his career track. Indeed, he sees many benefits he can bring to the judgeship via his varied professional life.
In fact, an Allentown attorney he knew through his pro sports involvement recommended he take his knowledge of vendors, licenses, trademarks and negotiations to law school – initially as a way to forward his career in sports.
“The current commissioner of the NFL is an attorney,” McGuire points out.
But the Northeast League decided to move its headquarters down to North Carolina, and he just didn’t want to leave Sullivan County.
“I can’t think of a better place to raise kids than this county,” McGuire says. “This is my home.”
He had also just been through a divorce and a new marriage, and he didn’t want to make the road any rougher for his three children, Kevin, Will and Carl.
So he joined the DA’s Office, learning the ropes inside the County Courthouse in Monticello.
“Steve gave me an opportunity to accelerate my own development,” McGuire recalls. “Immediately, I was intrigued by Steve as a mentor and as a leader.”
Lungen evidently felt similarly about McGuire, even including him in homicide cases.
“I handled virtually every type of case that comes into the DA’s Office,” McGuire says, “... and it was extremely gratifying. I had the balance of theory and education and life experience.”
But further opportunities beckoned in private practice, and after nearly four years, McGuire left the DA’s Office on good terms and set up his own office, with wife Corinne managing it.
Drawing on his ADA experience, McGuire handled thousands of cases, from felonies to adoptions, even serving as a law guardian for children in need of an attorney.
“I had gone through a divorce, and I knew the impact it had on my children,” he says, “and I wanted to help children.”
That’s one of the areas he’s eager to focus on if he becomes county court judge.
Yet while he seeks to be a caring, compassionate judge, McGuire vows not to play favorites – with anyone.
“I’m not a prosecutor’s judge, I’m not a defender’s judge,” he explains. “I’m Mike McGuire.”
To him, that means having a strong work ethic and moral code.
“As a judge, you’ll have to do things that aren’t always popular, but it’s the right thing to do,” he explains, drawing from his experience as a Judicial Training Institute instructor of town and village justices for the past six years.
He’s not so sure his opponent has been “doing the right thing,” however.
“I wish people didn’t represent they have 16 years’ experience but, when pressed, admit they’ve never tried a case in county court,” he laments, speaking of Barber.
“And we took 75 percent of the vote in the Conservative primary, yet we still see signs out there that say she’s supported by Conservatives,” he adds.
“The biggest thing that’s bothered me is the rhetoric that suggests everything we’ve gained has been political,” McGuire says. “... There’s nothing ‘backroom’ in anything we’ve done.”
He throws that charge back at Barber, wondering why she and not former Democratic candidate Martin Miller, a lifelong local attorney, is his challenger.
Unlike Barber, McGuire doesn’t claim he’ll be ready to serve as judge on day one – he admits the required coursework for new judges will be invaluable.
But he’s proud to point out how many others are confident of his potential, as he’s been endorsed by NYS Senator John Bonacic, the State Troopers’ and Sheriff’s PBAs, the Liberty and Fallsburg PBAs, the State Police Investigators PBA, the CSEA, the Hudson Valley Building and Trades Council, Carpenters Local 19, the NYS Pistol and Rifle Association, Sheriff Mike Schiff, and Betty Dutcher, founder of Safe Passage.
He promises not to betray that faith, recalling words of wisdom once lent to him by a mentor:
“Life is a portrait,” says McGuire, “and you should sign everything you do with excellence.”

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