Two candidates are on the ballot for the Village of Mineola’s only contested race in its Sept. 15 election, both are long-time residents of the village and have been practicing law for decades.
Scott Fairgrieve has been a resident of Mineola since 1978 and currently serves as a judge in Nassau County District Court.
He will have to step down in December, when he turns 70, the mandatory age limit for judges in New York State. The other candidate is acting justice Steve Barnwell, who has served in the position since Village Justice John O’Shea died in November.
Fairgrieve is looking to bring the experience he has from the district court to the justice position. He’s been a judge for 20 years. He said his approach would be “fair and impartial.”
“That’s the gold standard for a judge, to be fair and impartial and to listen to both sides. You want to be courteous to people and give everyone a fair shot,” Fairgrieve said.
Both candidates are involved with schools and mentoring students.
Barnwell has been a legal advisor to the Wheatley School’s mock trial team and a judge at the New York State Mock Trial (which was canceled this year due to the pandemic). Barnwell said this was one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
Fairgrieve is a professor of business law at Long Island University, has given talks at many area high schools about the dangers of drunk and distracted driving and has allowed many students over the years to intern under him while he’s on the job.
He had to stop this practice during the pandemic, but plans to begin again once it’s permissible.
Fairgrieve is going back to teaching next week in-person. He said he has “no problem” teaching face-to-face.
Both stressed the need to be impartial as a judge.
Barnwell said this is the biggest difference between his job as an assistant district attorney and as a judge.
“In all those lawyering positions you’re an advocate but when you’re a judge you have to weigh the law against what actually happened,” Barnwell said.
The Village Justice position takes cases that have to do with violations of the ordinances and regulations of the village and traffic violations committed within the village, except charges of driving while intoxicated. The village courts have no civil jurisdiction and therefore do not take lawsuits.
Fairgrieve said that the COVID-19 pandemic has already impacted the courts and with the possibility of a flare-up in cases in the fall, he acknowledged it could impact the village court.
Court proceedings were mostly shut down in March, except for some “emergency” proceedings that were held in-person, Fairgrieve said.
Arraignments in the district court were held virtually. He said these events “worked out okay” and that defendants would use Zoom from Nassau County Correctional Facility to have bail set.
Barnwell touted the fact that he had never held any sort of political office, and because of that said he had an impartial sense of justice.
“I’d like (voters) to know that I’m not a politician,” Barnwell said.
Fairgrieve was on the Mineola Village Board from 1982 to 1994 and was Deputy Mayor of the village for a number of years in that span. In March, he told Blank Slate Media this is part of what makes him a strong candidate for the position.
“I have a very good feel for how Mineola operates from being on the board and being so involved in the community for so many years,” Fairgrieve said.
Barnwell has worked for years in his private practice to represent NYPD officers who are involved in “malfeasance” or are questioned by Internal Affairs.
He said this involves going to hearings very late at night where these officers are questioned so they can have an attorney present. He said he is one of the attorneys that the police union in New York City hires to do this work. He said he is not part of the “in-house council” for the police.
Examples he gives are representing officers who are arrested or accused of misconduct by a civilian. These hearings are referred to as GO15s by the police department.
He said they are held late at night because if the incident in question occurs in the late hours, the department wants the most immediate recollection of those involved on the record. He said he has not ever accepted campaign donations from a police union.
Fairgrieve said he has been endorsed multiple times by Nassau County police unions when he was running for district court judge.
Both candidates stressed the importance of keeping personal political opinions insular from the justice position.
Fairgrieve is also on the board of trustees for County Seat Kiwanis Club, which he said he’s been involved with “for years and years.” He is on the board of trustees at the Mineola Historical Society and the Greater Long Island Running Club and has run several marathons over the years, an activity he hopes to continue once races are held again post-pandemic.