Five of the six candidates running for three Monroe County Court judgeships have sat on a judicial bench and the other came close.
One currently holds a seat on the county court bench and is running for election to keep it. Kelly C. Wolford of Webster was appointed in May to replace the Hon. Alexander R. Renzi, now a state supreme court justice.
Wolford is seeking a full 10-year term. Monroe County Board of Elections Commissioner Peter M. Quinn said appointed judges do not fill out the terms of the judges they replace but instead run for new terms in the next general election following their appointment.
The other vacancies are created through the retirement of Judge Richard A. Keenan at the end of this year, and the May 15 death of Judge John J. Connell.
Vincent J. Rizzo of Pittsford, a former assistant district attorney, was nominated by Gov. David A. Paterson in June to replace Judge Connell, but the state Senate never acted on his nomination and he never was seated.
Rizzo and Judge Wolford, both Democrats, are running along with four town justices: fellow Democrat Karen L. Morris, Brighton; and Republicans Vicki Argento, East Rochester; Vincent M. Dinolfo, Irondequoit; and James J. Piampiano, Henrietta.
Each candidate’s responses to The Daily Record’s questionnaire are included in today’s edition, unedited. Each was given the opportunity to provide up to 500 words. The Daily Record will publish profiles of the candidates running for state supreme court justice and family court in the Friday, Oct. 28 edition.
Monroe County Court
Vicki Argento, 48 (R, I, C)
Hometown: East Rochester
Current residence: East Rochester
Education: St. John Fisher College B.A. 1984; State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law J.D. 1987
Professional experience: East Rochester Town Court justice since 2002; practicing attorney since 1988; principal law clerk to County Court Judge Elma A. Bellini, August 2000-February 2001.
Why are you running? I am running for the county court bench because I regard it as the best way to continue my lifelong commitment to serving this community. It was instilled in me early on to be generous with my time and to reach out to those in need. Public service is a commitment to being part of something bigger than yourself — to give back to the place you call home and make a difference in the lives of people, something I have always tried to do.
What qualities or experience will make you a good judge? My experience as a practicing attorney and a judge along with my strong work ethic, my commitment to this community and my dedication to justice will make me a good Monroe County Court judge.
Toughest case or decision: As a judge I deal with real people every day. I treat every individual who appears before me with respect and try to keep in mind that each person believes that his or her case is the most important case in the world.
Case or decision of which you are most proud: I am proud of all the decisions that I have made as a judge and believe that each one is important. As a county court judge, I pledge to continue to judge with integrity, equality and justice and respect the dignity and freedom of each individual.
Vincent M. Dinolfo, 52 (R, I, C)
Current residence: Irondequoit
Education: I am a proud graduate of St. Bonaventure University and Capital University Law School.
Professional experience: Since 2000, I have been serving as an Irondequoit town justice. In my 11 years on the bench, I have presided over all town court matters including misdemeanors, violations, vehicle and traffic matters from arraignment through sentencing. I have also presided over felony matters from arraignments through the preliminary hearing stages and all civil matters. Also, since 2000, I have been an acting city court judge and have assumed the duties of a sitting judge on an as-needed basis. From January 1985 through January 1987, I served as an assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute misdemeanors and felonies. From January 1987 to February 2006, I engaged in the private practice of law. My most significant area of practice was litigating criminal and civil matters in state and federal courts. Since February of 2006, I have been principal law clerk to the Hon. Edmund A. Calvaruso, in Monroe County Surrogate’s Court. I review and prepare all matters on the court’s docket and preside over pre-trial hearings and court calendars as directed by the surrogate. In addition, I research, write and revise legal memoranda and decisions of the court.
Why are you running? I was brought up believing in the importance of family, service to the community and respect for the law. As a Monroe County Court judge, I will have the ability to have a profound impact on those who appear before me to further those values by upholding the law.
What qualities or experience will make you a good judge? I have served as an assistant district attorney who has prosecuted the most serious crimes as well as an attorney in private practice who has defended serious crimes.
For the past 11 years as an Irondequoit town justice, I have presided over 60,000 cases and have never been reversed on appeal. I am a past president and trustee of the Monroe County Magistrate’s Association. In addition, I am the only candidate for county court who is an instructor for Judge’s Certification School where I teach other judges how to serve. Since 2006, my experience as principal law clerk to the surrogate, where I have presided over pre-trial hearings and proceedings on the superior court bench, has been invaluable. As a husband, father, attorney, prosecutor, law clerk, judicial instructor and sitting judge, I bring a breadth of practical experience that is unmatched.
Toughest case or decision: All cases that come before me are treated as though it is the most important case that I will preside over.
Case or decision of which you are most proud: I am proud of every case that I have decided and my record of never being reversed on appeal.
Karen L. Morris, 60 (D, WF)
Hometown: Watertown (Jefferson County)
Current residence: Rochester
Education: J.D., St. John’s University Law School (Queens); LL.M. (Masters of Law in Trade Regulation), New York University; B.A., University of Vermont
Professional experience: In-house counsel with R.H. Macy & Co. Inc. (Macy’s Department Stores); assistant district attorney, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office; professor of law, Monroe Community College; private practice of law; Brighton Town justice
Why are you running? I care deeply about fairness and justice. I have been a town justice for 16 years which has prepared me well for the challenges of county court. I want to help protect the community by continuing to hold convicted defendants accountable for their actions. I want to help limit recidivism by continuing to include rehabilitation as a component of sentences for nonviolent offenders. I want to help create trust and confidence in our justice system by demonstrating fairness, lack of bias and caring.
What qualities or experience will make you a good judge? Experiences that have made me a better judge include my tenure as a prosecutor, volunteer work, writing and teaching. As an assistant district attorney, I gained experience prosecuting felonies and misdemeanors. As a community leader, I have worked with groups that disproportionately become defendants in court. I am familiar with the circumstances that contribute to criminal activity and seek to help alleviate them. As a professor of law and the author of “Criminal Law in New York,” a reference book for lawyers updated annually, my legal knowledge is regularly sharpened.
Toughest case or decision: The most difficult cases I hear in town court involve domestic violence. I am keenly aware that safety of household members is at risk, children’s lives will be disrupted and the result can be a family destroyed. Once an order of protection is issued, there are no easy fixes. The parties need lawyers and advice. Defendants need a clear message that the allegations, if true, cannot be tolerated. The judge in town court must be firm and creative to address the many related issues. My background as past president of Alternatives for Battered Women is instructive.
Case or decision of which you are most proud: Brighton Town Court handles approximately 450 driving-while-intoxicated cases annually. Each represents the possibility of a tragedy on the roadways, including death or life-altering injuries. Upon conviction, my sentences require that offenders obtain an alcohol evaluation and seek treatment if indicated. Additional components include a fine, license revocation, school, reflective essay and attendance at a victim-impact panel. I am proud that many defendants inform me months and sometimes years after the case is resolved, that their court experience changed their lives. They are able to maintain sobriety, a job and relationships. They thank me for requiring them to address their addiction and change their ways.
James J. Piampiano, 60 (R, I, C)
Current residence: Pittsford
Education: B.A., St. Bonaventure University, 1972; M.A. candidate, St. Bonaventure University, 1974; J.D., Ohio Northern University, 1977.
Professional experience: Private practice for 30 years; Henrietta Town justice; acting Rochester City Court judge; Rochester Teen Court judge; Henrietta Zoning Board counsel
Why are you running? Very simply, I am running to do a good job, and to promote justice in our community in a fair and impartial manner. My working background and life experiences have led me to this point where I believe I will make an outstanding contribution to our system of criminal justice.
What qualities or experience will make you a good judge? Common sense, practicality, sense of fairness, sense of right and wrong, intellect to grasp the issues, courage to impose a just sentence (whether that sentence will be perceived as popular or not), and my prior work as a trial lawyer in county court which has provided the hands-on experience that will guide me during difficult times in the years ahead.
Toughest case or decision: As a jury trial lawyer, any case I lost that I truly felt we should have won, was always my toughest case. Any trial lawyer will tell you that. As a judge, my toughest decisions have been the close calls, usually after a bench trial. Most cases at the town level are not tried with evidentiary precision, so you are left to do the best job you can with what has been presented before you.
Case or decision of which you are most proud: I represented a black police officer who was passed over for promotion by the Rochester Police Department, based on the color of his skin, in the New York State Division of Human Rights, whose name was Edward Lester. I believed in Ed and his case, and after fighting for him for 10 long years, we won one of the biggest settlements ever against the city. I could have walked away from that case at any time along the way, but didn’t. It is that type of dedication, commitment and sense of justice that I will bring to the county court bench.
Vincent J. Rizzo, 61 (D, WF)
Hometown: Auburn (Cayuga County)
Current residence: Pittsford
Education: University of Dayton, School of Law, J.D., 1979
Professional experience: Investigator for the Rochester City School District, 2009-present; special assistant district attorney, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, 1990-2009 including chief of Local Courts Bureau, 1999-2009; and chief, D.W.I. Bureau, 1996-1999. Also executive attorney, Frank H. Hiscock Legal Aid Society, Syracuse, 1985-1990; and assistant public defender, Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, 1980-1985.
Why are you running? Becoming a Monroe County Court judge would be the ultimate expression of my personal and professional commitment to a career in the criminal justice system and dedication to public service.
What qualities or experience will make you a good judge? I am proud to point to my 30 years of experience as a criminal trial attorney. I was a prosecutor for 19 years and a defense attorney for 11 years. During that time, I tried more than 100 felonies and over 30 homicides. The great majority of those trials were in county court. Since county court is an almost entirely felony criminal court, my background translates directly. Due to my extensive time in that court, I am extremely well versed in the types of duties required of a judge there. The expertise which I have obtained and developed over the years has prepared me well to make the important daily decisions which a judge must make to ensure justice for all in our community. In addition, I have trained prosecutors both locally and on the state level. I have taught criminal law courses to both police officers and college students. I have also been actively involved on local and state committees related to the prosecution of domestic violence and driving while intoxicated protocols and initiatives, as well as in efforts to promote victim’s rights.
Kelly C. Wolford, 40 (D, WF)
Current residence: Webster
Education: University of Dayton School of Law, J.D. 1995; Allegheny College, B.A. 1992
Professional experience: May 2010 to present — Monroe County Court judge and acting Family Court judge (Rochester). I was appointed to Monroe County Court in May. Because I had been involved in so many prosecutions in my position in the district attorney’s office, and I could not be the judge on the same cases I helped prosecute, the chief administrative judge assigned me to Family Court for a short time. I handle a full case load of Family Court matters, including PINS cases (Person in Need of Supervision), juvenile delinquency cases, neglect and abuse cases, family offense cases, and custody cases.
June 1997 to May 2010 — Prosecutor in the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. I began as a trial prosecutor in the Local Courts Bureau prosecuting misdemeanor and traffic-related offenses. I later was a felony trial prosecutor in the County Court Bureau, responsible for prosecuting people charged with felony-level offenses including conducting any trials or hearings. In 2000, I became a member of the Appeals Bureau. In 2004, I was promoted to deputy chief of appeals, and in January 2009, to chief of appeals. I have argued six times before the New York Court of Appeals and more than 100 times before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.
May 1995 to October, 1996 — Prosecutor in the Stark County Prosecutor’s Office (Canton, Ohio). Included prosecuting adult criminal appeals, juvenile trials and civil practice representing various county agencies in litigation matters.
Why are you running? I am running for county court judge because the safety of our community depends on having highly qualified county court judges who know the law and know how to apply it. My unique experience as a trial and an appellate prosecutor, combined with my experience as a county court judge, have given me the skills necessary to serve this community in this vital role and to ensure that justice is accomplished in each case.
Toughest case or decision: The toughest cases of my career were a series of cases where defendants convicted of depraved indifference were seeking reversal of their convictions after a change in the law. Across the state, defendants’ convictions were being reversed as a result of this change. I spent a number years working on nearly every one of these cases in Monroe County. As an appellate lawyer they were extremely challenging cases as the rule of law was constantly evolving and the results of these cases were of vital importance to this community.
Case or decision of which you are most proud: I am most proud of one of the depraved indifference murder cases mentioned above in which I was successful in arguing for a new trial when it was clear that reversal of the conviction was inevitable. After the matter was remanded for a new trial, I co-chaired the retrial, which resulted in the defendant being convicted of intentional murder.