By LIZ BUTTON
Rye City Court Judge Richard Runes stepped down from his position as part-time judge on Jan. 1 after reaching the mandatory age of retirement for New York State judges, leaving the Rye position open for a replacement.
Runes, 69, was appointed to the Rye City Court bench in 2008 by former Mayor Steve Otis, a Democrat, and has served as part-time city court judge for the past six years.
Serving Rye, said Runes, “was an opportunity for me to give something back to the community.”
Runes, a Democrat, who has lived in Rye for 25 years, is a former state Senate aide who has worked as a lobbyist for real estate group Glenwood Management. Now that he is no longer a part-time judge, Runes said he will commit more time to his job as vice president and counsel for external affairs and government relations at America Lawyer Media, which publishes The National Law Journal and The American Lawyer magazine.
Runes, who was admitted to the New York State bar in 1972 and received his juris doctor at New York Law School, also runs his own private practice that keeps him busy, he said.
The city’s former part-time judge said he learned a great deal as a judge in Rye.
“When you have to do nighttime and weekend arraignments and orders of protection and the criminal calendar, you get to know a lot of about your friends and neighbors,” he said.
Although he turns 70 this year, Runes could have been reappointed to serve out the balance of 2014, during which he reaches the age of retirement, but chose not to.
Runes’ retirement comes due to a state requirement for judges leaving him no other option.
Last year, New Yorkers voted on a ballot initiative that would have raised the retirement age for appeals court judges in the state from 70 to 80; the measure was defeated by a margin of 61 to 39 percent. But some critics, including former state Supreme Court Judge and former Rye Mayor John Carey, were outspoken against the ballot proposal in arguing that it discriminates against family and county court judges for which the age of retirement remains at 70.
Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, honored Runes’ tenure as he announced the vacancy.
“We want to thank Richard Runes tremendously for his service over the past six years,” Sack said.
The city has not appointed an interim replacement for Runes, so Judge Joseph Latwin, the court’s full-time judge, is currently hearing all cases on his own, necessitating a speedy search.
Latwin, a Republican, was appointed four years ago to a 10-year term by then Mayor Douglas French, a Republican.
Runes’ auxiliary position used to be called the acting city court judge but, due to a change in the state law, the job is now referred to as city court judge part-time. The job description is essentially for a judge who assists the regular city court judge on days where he or she is not available for whatever reason, like being called to sit at county court in White Plains.
Sack said finding a replacement for this position will be a different process in a number of ways from the City Council appointment process that just ended with the additions of councilmen Richard Mecca, a Republican, and Richard Slack, unaffiliated.
City Council members are volunteers who are not compensated for their services to the community. Runes was appointed to the paid, part-time job at a salary of $31,900, a quarter of the full-time judicial salary, which, by state law, comes to a little more than $130,000 annually.
Due to a recent change in state law, the part-time judge’s salary has been boosted to about $65,000, half the regular judicial salary,
The other difference between the jobs is the judge position is nominated by the mayor under the city charter, whereas a vacant City Council position is nominated by and filled by a vote of the entire council.
Applicants to the part-time judge position should be attorneys who are Rye residents, according to Sack, who said he will begin meeting with and interviewing candidates soon. Sack said he is focusing on finding someone with a good personal reputation, a strong legal background, experience in the local courts and a proven record of community service.
“The benefit of this position if you are an attorney is that you can have your own law practice on the side. A full-time judge can’t do that,” Sack said.
The mayor said he has already heard from several people who are interested in the position. After conducting interviews, he hopes to announce an appointment at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting.