Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 7, 2013

Lobbying for justices

Cambria's Amer Jowdy heads state magistrate association

BY BILL WOLCOTT bill.wolcott@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — What does a teen do if they’re charged with underage drinking or caught with marijuana, receives an appearance ticket for town court and doesn’t show?

Nothing. The town justices’ hands are tied, according to state law.

Cambria Town Justice Amel S. Jowdy and the New York State Magistrates Association are lobbying to change that.

It’s one of the things the 104-year-old organization of town and village justices do. Members have lessons and are caught up on changes in the law.

The ABC Law amendment is on the agenda.

Jowdy is president of the association and the first Niagara County justice to hold the position. He was sworn into the office at the annual meeting in September at Lake Placid and is looking forward to meetings next weekend.

“The courts closest to the people” lobby the legislature for changes. The association is 3,150 strong in the state which has about 932 towns.

Jowdy’s father, Amel S. Jowdy Sr., held the position in Cambria for 28 years and used to hold court at his kitchen table before remodeling the woodshed at his Ridge Road home. When his father retired in 1996, Amel Jowdy Jr. succeeded him.

Jowdy has held court in the Cambria Town Hall for 17 years.

The magistrates association’s legislation committee put five items on the agenda this year.

“There are changes we want to see in Albany,” Jowdy said. 

“Right now, the biggest thing we’re trying to have changed what we call the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Bill,” Jowdy said. “The way the law reads, if you don’t come to court, I can’t do a thing to you. I can’t put a warrant out for your arrest.”

The justice can’t do anything if the violator comes to court, but does not fulfill the sentence. Jowdy said he has a drawer full of cases he’s unable to act upon.

“The ABC Law and the 221 (ABC-65c and PL221.05) laws marijuana law, as it stands, there are no penalties if you don’t show up in court,” the judge said. “We want that changed in Albany.”

Many violators learn of the state policy. “Eventually, the word gets out,” he said.

The magistrates association has tried to change the ABC law for seven or eight years, according to Jowdy. 

“It will pass in the senate and the assembly shoots it down,” Jowdy said, “Lawmakers do not want to see another penalty added. They feel, if there’s jail time, it could give that person a criminal record.”

The association has offered options, including an alcohol awareness program where the record is wiped clean. The judges are hopeful its legislation will pass in 2014.

Other agenda items the association is lobbying for include giving judges full credit in the retirement system and increasing state regulated fees for filing for small claims court.

Jowdy was water superintendent in the Town of Cambria as well as a member of the Western New York Water Works Association and New York State Water Works Association.

Only a third of the town justices are lawyers and the association has mandated training for its members.

“The better educated we can keep our town and village judges, the less chance they have to appear in front of commission and give black eye. We make sure they are doing things right,” Jowdy said.