Stevensville celebrates Halloween Dorothy Stevens discusses her bid for judge
For Attorney Dorothy Stevens, the chance to run for Tioga County Judge on the Democratic Party line is a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. Stevens said that her decision to attend law school and pursue her Juris Doctorate degree from St. John's University and ultimately her bid for Tioga County Judge was shaped by over 15 years of experience in human services working with high-risk families, ones most likely to have problems landing them in front of a judge.
Stevens started her working life as a probation officer in Bradford County, Pa., followed by a stint as unit manager with the New York State Division for Youth. She became the director of SHARE, the first child sexual abuse treatment agency in Chemung County, where she also worked for Glove House in Elmira.
"My work in human services pulled me in that direction," Stevens said of her decision to continue her education and become a lawyer, "I saw situations where I could be more effective as an attorney."
That life experience is something Stevens says is important for anyone before they become an attorney, and helped her when she entered private practice in 1996. She worked in family and criminal law in Johnson City, legal aid in Binghamton, and served as the Village of Newark Valley Attorney. For the past eight years Stevens has been a staff attorney at Sullivan Trail Legal Society in Chemung County, working as an Attorney for the Child, formerly known as a Law Guardian. Her work involves abuse and neglect cases, juvenile delinquency, and custody or visitation disputes.
All that experience working at family law would seem to obviously make Stevens qualified for the position of judge in Tioga County, where the vast majority of cases heard by the judge are in Family Court. Stevens said she did not ask the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission (IJEQC) to rate her since in her experience the IJEQC is very political. "I'm not interested in being political," Stevens said.
According to ethical standards, Stevens said the campaign for judge should be above the fray. She also said she would not talk about any specific cases, past, present or pending, explaining that to do so would also be against her understanding of the ethical code.
"I will not comment about the other candidates unless I am attacked," Stevens added, referring to current Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene and Attorney Mike Arcesi. "I try to stay out of a fracas because it is not becoming to the position," Stevens said.
One area Stevens wanted to clarify was that yes, she has only tried one felony case in Tioga County, "Which I won," she added with a smile. However, Stevens pointed out that she had tried many felony cases in Broome County when she was in private practice. Regarding dangerous criminals a judge is likely to have before them, Stevens said that defense attorneys meet with those people in their office or at their homes sometimes, and that criminal court was not the only dangerous venue.
On the day she was interviewed, Stevens spoke about a person from one of her Family Court cases that followed her out of the courthouse and into the parking lot. "It was scary," she said of the incident. Family court is often more emotionally charged than criminal court, Stevens said.
"When you're dealing with family issues it's about the core of a person's being," Stevens said, "it can be a constant battle that eats people up."
Stevens said that family court cases frequently cross over with criminal court, involving domestic violence and abuse. In the case of misdemeanors that might be related to family court cases before her, Stevens said communications with town and village courts would be a priority for her. "Orders of protection might say different things, and misdemeanors are not fluffy, they are crimes," Stevens said. "There should be a flow of communications between the county and lower courts as to what is happening."
While she feels that her experience with the legal system across three counties gave valuable insight about what works and what doesn't, Stevens said she brought her family to Tioga County to raise. She was raised in South Waverly, "a stone's throw away from Jerry," referring to Waverly native Keene.
"This is a great community. I could have lived anywhere but I brought my kids here to raise, and they want to come back," Stevens said, "I want the job to help maintain that."