Clifton Park politics

Jennifer Jeram

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — An attorney with a family steeped in local community service has announced her candidacy for town judge.

Jennifer Jeram,  a Democrat, and principal law clerk for Supreme Court Judge Robert J. Muller of the Fourth Department in Warren County made the announcement virtually Feb. 18. She is challenging longtime incumbent Town Judge James Hughes, a Republican, for a seat on the town’s judicial bench in November.

Jeram’s announcement coupled with the endorsement of the town’s Democratic Committee drew a virtual audience of about 35 eager supporters.

Hughes received the Clifton Park Republican Committee’s endorsement late last month when it announced its support for a slate of candidates running for town offices.

In making her announcement, Jeram gave three reasons for taking on the challenge of elective office; her commitment to the community, her dedication to justice, and a desire for change at town court.

“Helping my community has always been a driving force for me,” she said during her announcement. “Being involved in the community and giving back has been ingrained in me since I was a kid. As town judge that would give me the opportunity to give back to the community in the best way I know how.”

In discussing her dedication to justice, Jeram referenced a quote that she said drives her in her work for Judge Muller and will drive her as a  judge; ‘your job is to find justice no matter how hard she may hide herself from you’.

“I will look at the facts of the case, be even-handed in my decisions, and let justice prevail,” she said. “I know the law and I will not stop until I find the answers. My court will be a place where people can always go for fairness and impartiality.”

When discussing her third reason for running, change, Jeram noted that the town has never had a female judge on the bench and she wants to be the first.

“I think it’s time for a change,” she said. “I want to show not only my kids but all the kids out there the importance of women serving in a judicial role.”

Additionally, in that regard, she noted that in her mind it was simply time to bring some fresh ideas and new perspectives to town court. Hughes has been on the bench since 1982.

“We can always take a look at how things are done in town court and see if there are ways to improve them,” Jeram said. “With COVID, every court has had to pivot to doing everything virtually. There’s been challenges for sure but I think a lot of people who had trouble accessing the court are now able to do that. I think we should look at continuing virtual court after COVID where we can.”

On her campaign website, Jeram notes also that she would like to explore the possibility of having problem-solving courts like a domestic violence court or a veteran’s court.

A Niskayuna native, Jeram and her husband have lived in town since 2009. They have three young children.

After earning an undergraduate degree in psychology from McGill University in Montreal, Jeram worked as a case manager at the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter where she witnessed the power of the law in righting humanity’s wrongs. That experience moved her to return to school and enroll in the University at Buffalo Law School where she earned her law degree.

After graduation and prior to landing her position with Judge Muller, Jeram was an appellate court attorney for the New York State Appellate Division Third Department in Albany.

In an interview several days before her formal announcement, Jeram said running for judge was something she has wanted to do for a long time and in fact, becoming a judge was a major driver in her going to law school.

“After I got out of law school I was helping victims of domestic violence doing pro bono work and it was there that I got to see just how much a judge can help someone in that situation,” she said. “It was that and the fact that being a judge has been a goal of mine for a long time.”

In hearing that he had an opponent, Hughes said he’s ready for another four years and welcomed the challenge. Self-described as a workaholic, the incumbent said he sees no reason for retiring since he has retired once already from the New York State Police, is in great health and enjoys doing the work of a town judge.

Asked to respond to Jeram’s suggestion that virtual court continues after COVID, Hughes acknowledged it seems to be working, but said the office of court administration would make such a decision plus, the face-to-face aspects of the courtroom gets lost. He added that Jeram’s idea of a problem-solving court like one for domestic violence cases sounded good.

Asked whether it was time for a change as Jeram has suggested, Hughes said his answer was simply three letters, W-H-Y.

“Change for change sake is a waste of time; change for a purpose is a good idea,” he said.

The town has two judges presiding in town court, Judge Hughes and Judge Robert Rybak, a Democrat. Rybak remains the sole Democrat in elective office in Clifton Park. The annual salary for a town court judge is $42,046.

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