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Dan Hust | Democrat

Judge Burt Ledina’s grandchildren garnered hugs and applause for a homemade poem they read to Grandpa, praising him for his long career but acknowledging excitement about the upcoming free time he’ll lavish on them. Delivering the poem in grand style at his retirement party Friday night were, from the left, Sarah and Julie Delange, Ronald Kelson, and Ethan and Annika Ledina. The judge’s daughter, Michelle Kelson, is behind the newly minted poets.

A full house showers Judge Ledina with praise and love

By Dan Hust
BLOOMINGBURG — November 9, 2010 — Burton Ledina found all the love a judge – or any man – could want inside the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant in Bloomingburg Friday night.
And in the process of being praised by hundreds of well-wishers from across the region, the county court judge discovered retirement may be more sweet than bitter.
The words poured upon him were warm and often included a recurring joke about the judge’s decisionmaking.
Sullivan County Attorney and Bar Association President Sam Yasgur hinted at it, saying the association had decided to honor Ledina by “reserving” its decision.
County Legislator and Monticello lawyer Ron Hiatt got in on the joke, as well.
“His demeanor is reserved,” Hiatt noted of the judge, “as are some of his decisions.”
But both Hiatt and Yasgur quickly followed the laughter with admiration.
“I knew always that I would be treated with courtesy and respect,” said Hiatt of his work in Ledina’s courtroom.
“There are in our lifetimes only a few special people who by their conduct ... actually bring honor not only to themselves but the court,” added Yasgur, who is not known for giving compliments lightly.
The accolades continued, stretching past the two-hour mark.
Recently retired NYS Supreme Court Justice Tony Kane recalled appearing before Ledina when he was a Village of Monticello and Town of Thompson judge in the 1970s.
Ledina’s counterpart and onetime political opponent, fellow County Court Judge Frank LaBuda, noted how Ledina could bring logic to chaos, then create harmony amidst warring parties.
Judges, he said, must be “fair, honest and independent ... so being a judge is a lonely position.”
But Ledina, LaBuda added, “has borne that burden well, without grimace or complaint.”
Karen Linen, who also once ran against Ledina for the Republican nomination, recalled her loss to him as “the most civil experience I can recall having in any kind of competition.”
Ledina is famous for his mild temperament and always putting others first – especially attorneys anxiously waiting to appear before him.
He’s known “as a lawyer’s judge,” said Linen, “because he remembered we all had other commitments.”
And when she fell ill, requiring an eight-week recuperation, Ledina stopped by her home – while campaigning to keep his elected office – with two pillows to ease her pain.
“It was a Sunday afternoon, and there were probably 20 chicken barbecues he should have been at,” recalled Linen. “... I will never forget that act of kindness.”
But Ledina didn’t grab all the praise that night. His retirement happens to coincide with two longtime staffers, as well: Law Clerk Frank Felleman and Confidential Secretary Helene Indelicato.
“Frank, you made your judge look great,” Linen related in appreciation. “And Helene, you are an angel – you are exemplary. You also made your judge look great.”
Felleman was given an award by the Bar Association, and both he and Indelicato later expressed great fondness for their judge.
So did Ledina’s successor-elect, Ferndale attorney Michael McGuire, who admitted he can’t begin to replace Ledina.
“What I will do is work hard every day and be guided by your legacy of fair, even-handed jurisprudence,” said McGuire. “... You have earned the right to be counted amongst the finest judges who ever served our county.”
Finally, it was Ledina’s turn to speak.
“Judge Mike,” he said to McGuire, “you’re going to do fine.”
That characteristic trait of kind encouragement peppered his speech, with acknowledgments literally being made to the entire audience for their help throughout his career.
“One of the best decisions I ever made was to select a secretary,” he added with a smile, “and that was Mrs. Helene Indelicato. ... Helen, I love ya!”
Felleman didn’t escape notice, either, and Ledina appeared the saddest about the breaking up of what had become his extended family.
“The whole idea is to deliver justice that is correct, accurate and fair,” he mused. “... I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
Come January, when his retirement is official, Judge Ledina may more often be called “Burt” than “Your Honor.”
But he’ll still have his family and friends, where a new beginning awaits.
Ledina’s five grandchildren gave a delighted audience a taste of that bright future by reading him a touching poem, proud of his service but excited about all the time they’ll now get to spend with him.
For that, they got what few other speakers earned that night – a great big hug from Grandpa.

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