Forks in the Road: Oswego County Court bids farewell to a legend

Oswego County Court Judge Donald E. Todd.

In the Oswego County Court chambers on the lower floor of the Oswego County Public Safety Center (also known as the county jail), there are two photos on the right-hand wall. One is a full size portrait of former Oswego County Court Judge Donald H. Stacey, who served during the 1960’s and early 70’s. Stacey was known for his stern and sometimes blustery demeanor in meting out justice, and there is also a tiny postage stamp size photo of the current judge, Don Todd, taped to the wall. It’s done largely in jest — we know not by whom.

Regardless, the time for a real portrait is drawing nigh. As County Court Judge Donald E. Todd will be surrendering his robes at the end of a ten-year term, retiring to spend more time with wife, Terry, and their family including grandchildren. In a former life, Terry was also a public servant in the parking enforcement office for the city of Oswego.

I have gotten to know Don better over the past two years since I moved back to Oswego, and he invited me to serve as a defense counsel for violation of probation cases. I completed my duties in that court in October, so I am free to speak without fear or favor.

Judge Todd hails from a politically famed Oswego Town family. His grandfather, Reul M. Todd, served as Oswego County Board of Elections commissioner and his brother, Reuel M. (Moe) Todd II, served as Oswego County Sheriff until 2019.  I have known Moe Todd since childhood when we both spent time as summer campers at Camp Hollis. He went on to a career in law enforcement, working his way up through the ranks, and ultimately being elected sheriff in his own right. Sheriff Moe Todd served five four-year terms before announcing in 2018 he would not seek a fifth term. I have always viewed Moe as a fair and hard-working man of the law who served the people of Oswego County with great distinction. The same can be said of his younger brother Don the judge

Don and his twin brother Ron, are always fixed in my memory wearing white chefs hats as they toiled behind the grill at Rudy’s Fish Fry during their teenage years. Steadily and sweatily they served up Texas hots and fried fish sandwiches. The judge is one of seven siblings born to Don and June Todd of Oswego Town including Georege, Moe, Don and Ron, Judy,

Don attended SUNY Oswego and law school at George Washington University, and returned to Oswego County to practice law in 1981 with the firm of Ciezeski, Todd and Reynolds. He became a part- time assistant district attorney, and later a full-time assistant DA. He would ascend chief assistant before seeking the county court judgeship in 2010. He also served as an assistant city attorney during my mayoral term, largely dealing with zoning matters.

As Oswego County Court Judge, Todd has dealt with the more serious felony criminal cases, and has served as acting Family Court judge on occasion, as well as acting Supreme Court justice in the six-county Fifth Judicial District.

Judge Todd is famous for his no-nonsense manner of holding defendants accountable for their crimes, and of being a judge who rarely “spares the rod to spoil the child” if he believes that a defendant appearing before him is either insincere or disrespectful. Many a defendant appearing before him quickly learned to sit up, pay attention and most of all, show up when they are supposed to. He is a very strict adherent to s schedules, and even an attorney or two (myself included) have acutely felt his displeasure for not being promptly present — as it should be.

He is also capable of being compassionate and always strives for fairness in his pursuit of the appropriate sentence or adjudication for those appearing before him. He is also possessed of a keen sense of humor, quick wit and long memory, which have served him well.

Outside the courtroom, Don has been very active in the Breakfast Rotary Club, which he chairs, and has taken great delight in helping to build tpark and peace garden adjacent to the east side of the railway bridge walkway. He can often be seen in the early morning hours doggedly plucking weeds out of the several flowerbeds that now bloom in the park.

Don’s legal and judicial career can be summed up by the old adage, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The people of Oswego County have been very well served by this distinguished jurist’s long career. Here’s wishing him much happy gardening in his coming retirement.

John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online.  His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Thursday of each month.

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