Supreme Court race features unique cross-party endorsement

Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Romano Clark, pictured above, is one of five candidates running for three Supreme Court seats. Romano Clark achieved the unusual feat of securing the Democratic, Republican, Independence and Conservative party endorsements.

OSWEGO —Voters tomorrow will select three New York State Supreme Court Justices from a field of five candidates. The state Supreme Court hears a wide variety of civil cases, and Oswego County is part of the Fifth Judicial District that includes Onondaga, Oneida, Herkimer, Lewis and Jefferson counties.

Throughout the campaign, several Supreme Court candidates visited The Palladium-Times to discuss their candidacy and qualifications — judicial candidates in New York are prohibited from discussing their views on specific laws, policy or cases.

Last year, Volney’s Scott DelConte was elected to the Supreme Court, and while none of this year’s candidates are Oswego County residents, Supreme Court Justices can be assigned to serve anywhere within the six-county Judicial District during their 14-year term.

This year’s candidates along with the ballots lines on which they will appear are: Bernadette Romano Clark (D, R, I, C); Rory A. McMahon (D); Julie Cerio (D); Joseph E. Lamendola (R, C, I); and Robert E. Antonacci, II (R, C, I), according to the Oswego County Board of Elections.

This year’s three Supreme Court vacancies were created by the expiration of Romano Clark’s term, Justice Brian DeJoseph reaching the age 70 retirement mandate and the death of prominent Syracuse Judge James C. Tormey III.

A longtime judge with three decades of legal experience, Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Romano Clark is seeking re-election to the seat she’s held since 2006, supported by both Democrats and Republicans alike.

Romano Clark is running for her second term and in a feat unprecedented in recent history, according to The Palladium-Times’ research department, secured the Dem, GOP, Independence and Conservative party lines. Barring an once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe at the polls, Romano Clark is almost assured to return to the bench.

Romano Clark said the past 14 years as a Supreme Court Justice have been “formative and fulfilling,” but noted her path to the bench was met with opposition she overcame with determination. Reflecting on her first 14 years in office, and the obstacles that were presented on her path to the bench, Romano Clark became emotional recalling her time commuting to law school and working through the ranks as a woman in a field dominated by men.

“It was overwhelming,” she said of receiving the endorsement of the four parties. “It’s indescribable really how I feel about getting all these lines. What I hope is, I’ve done a good job and people respect me… it was incredibly gratifying to get these endorsements.”

Ensuring justice is reached in a timely fashion is among the most challenging aspects of her job, Romano Clark said, adding she believes “justice delayed is justice denied.”

“When you are wondering whether you are going to get custody of your child or be able to pay your medical bills, you can’t make people wait for years,” she said, adding it’s up to the court to make cases move quickly. “You need to give people answers and move the cases quickly so they can move on with their lives.”

Romano Clark told The Palladium-Times she would continue to be a “fair and impartial” judge, and noted the most satisfying part of her job is ensuring a level playing field in the court room and “allowing people a forum that’s fair for both sides.” She described herself as “a very active judge” who asks a lot of questions and seeks the truth.

A lifelong resident of Oneida County, Romano Clark graduated from Syracuse University School of Law Magna Cum Laude in 1989, before being admitted to the state bar a year later. Before moving to Supreme Court, Romano Clark served as Oneida County First Assistant District Attorney and Oneida County Family Court Judge.

In her time in the district attorney’s office and family court, Romano Clark said protecting children was always her top priority, and she played a major role in creating a special victims unit and child advocacy center in Oneida County.

Following a decade as an attorney and prosecutor in central New York, Romano Clark became the first female judge elected in Oneida County when she became Family Court Judge in 2000 — a position she served until moving to her current role in 2006. Romano Clark was the first woman in Oneida County to serve as first assistant district attorney, Family Court judge and Supreme Court Justice.

Republican Robert Antonacci, a former Onondaga County Comptroller and current state Senator, joins Romano Clark and Joseph Lamendola on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party ballot lines.

A lifelong Syracuse resident who graduated from Lemoyne College, Antonacci went to work for public accounting firm Ernst and Young before deciding to attend law school at Syracuse University. Following law school, he packaged the accounting and legal credentials into practice, he said, largely helping people navigate state and federal tax issues.  

Antonacci was elected Onondaga County Comptroller in 2007 and served in the role for 11 years before replacing longtime state Senator John DeFrancisco in 2018 and spent one year serving in Albany. As county comptroller, Antonacci said he served in a “quasi-judicial” role, aiming not to make policy, but interpret and audit the results of operations and provide reporting to county legislators and county executives.

Antonacci said he sees himself as “a fair, honest and respectful judge,” and views the Supreme Court role — much like his previous positions — as a public service to the community.

“We’re there to help you solve your problems,” he said of the court. “I’ll be a judge that will respect people’s time, help them get through their disputes as quickly and as efficiently as possible, fairly and have litigants understand why a decision was made the way it was.”

In his role as comptroller, Antonacci said he showed independence and strength by taking on the county attorney’s office in a pay raise lawsuit and was successful in protecting taxpayers. Though some criticized him at the time, he said the bottom line is the county is “doing it the right way now.”

Being a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, is a unique attribute to bring to the supreme court bench, Antonacci said, noting it would provide insight into the complex business and matrimonial cases that make up a significant number of the cases in Supreme Court. Antonacci said he enjoyed his time in the state Senate, but the unexpected death of legal legend James Tormey opened a third seat on the state Supreme Court. He said the opportunity to carry on Tormey’s legacy and use his legal and financial expertise to help the community was too enticing to turn down.

“This is a wonderful way to help our community, providing my experience to litigants, lawyers and the business community,” he said. ”I’m excited about that opportunity to provide a service to the community.”

Attorney Julie Cerio, principal at Syracuse’s Cerio Law Offices, has been practicing law in central New York for two decades and said in a recent interview her temperament and a “respect” for “concise” application of the law are among, but not the only, qualities she possesses to make a superior judge.

As a result of her work as a private attorney and with child abuse and maltreatment reporting for the Onondaga County Department of Social Services, Cerio said she sees the “impact” the law has on the lives of the people who appear with her.

“For a lot of people, they’re seeing me on the worst day of their lives, I see the struggle and I see in the different courts which judges can still treat people respectfully,” Cerio said. “I can treat people the way they need to be treated, and I’ve done trials and motions in a variety of different courts and settings and all different types of law.”

Cerio took a roundabout — some may call it heroic — path to her law degree that no other candidate can claim: between beginning and ending her studies, Cerio and her husband welcomed their four children into the world.

After passing the bar, the Cerios opened their law offices in downtown Syracuse where they continue to practice business, criminal, family and  municipal law, as well as personal injury and estate planning, among many other areas.

Practicing law has allowed Cerio to participate in what she said are inspiring stories of real-life transformation.

“You can seriously impact people’s lives – I see women come into my office who have been the victims of abuse and all their self-esteem has been ripped away,” Cerio said. “Even their posture, their shoulders are bent down and by the time we’re done with the divorce, they’re sitting up a little bit straighter and they’ve been able to get out and get their own apartment and their lives have gotten better and I feel like I have something to do with that.”

Retired New York Air National Guard Colonel and Syracuse attorney Joseph Lamendola is running a campaign he said aims to give back to the community and described his ideal judicial temperament as containing “compassion and fairness.”

Lamendola, who has been practicing law for more than 30 years and currently resides in Camillus, will appear on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines.

“This is a desire on my part to utilize my skills as an attorney to give back to the community,” he told The Palladium-Times in a recent interview. “One of the most important skills I’ve learned and one any attorney can bring to the bench is judicial temperament giving back to the community — so to speak. I think every attorney has a desire to be a judge at some point and I believe I am at the pinnacle of my career.”

By virtue of his long career as a military Judge Advocate as well as stints as an assistant district attorney in Dutchess County, Lamendola said he understands what it means to serve.

“I have learned about duty, honor and commitment,” Lamendola said of his time in uniform. “You learn to be civil and respectful. I will do my best to take care of veterans and active members who find themselves down on their luck — even with just anything they need as far as pro-bono work. That is my way of giving back.”

Lamendola works currently as general counsel for the Empire State Supervisor and Administration Association, where he represents 35 public education administrative entities comprised of over 450 members in central, southern and western New York, aiding them in collective bargaining agreements, contract grievances and arbitration hearings.

Election Day is tomorrow, Nov. 5.

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