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Q&A with City Court judge candidates: Durin Rogers

By Howard B. Owens

Residents of the City of Batavia will select a new full-time City Court judge in the Nov. 5 General Election. The candidates are Durin Rogers and Ben Bonarigio. We sent each candidate a series of questions about their views of the law. We are publishing their written answers verbatim. Here are the answers from Durin Rogers.

Among the current members of the U.S. Supreme Court, which justice do you admire the most and why?
I admire our United States Supreme Court as a whole entity. It is an integral part of our judicial system and an essential part of the checks and balances created by our Constitution to ensure that no one branch of government becomes too powerful. It is part of our American way of life and so important because its decisions can affect so many aspects of our daily lives, whether that be our right to freedom of religion, speech and press; our right to bear arms; our right to travel; our right to legal representation; and so many more.

Do you view the Constitution as a living document or would you define yourself more as a strict constructionist, and if neither of these terms fit your view of the Constitution, how do you view it as a point of Constitutional philosophy?
A Judge should never interpret the Constitution to meet their own individual preferences. As a local court judge, I have an obligation to follow legal precedent (established laws and the decisions of our New York and Federal courts). When I sit on the bench, I likewise expect that the attorneys before me base their advocacy on legal precedent. As such, it would be a rare situation for me to be called upon to interpret the Constitution and determine an issue that has not come up before. Any personal agenda to expand or narrow the intention of the law is inconsistent with the role of a judge as that would be imposing one’s own will on the bench. Instead, every decision of a judge should represent the application of the law fairly and equally to the facts at hand.

What three books related to the law have influenced your thinking the most about legal philosophy and why?
Having first read this book in law school, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting to Yes was of great influence as it taught negotiating and bargaining by separating the person from the problem and taking emotion out of it.

The Federalist Papers, which are indispensable commentaries on the Constitution and the new system of government our Founding Fathers created in the late eighteenth century.

John Grisham’s The Firm was the first legal drama I read while in law school before Tom Cruise starred in the blockbuster movie. It incorporated so many legal issues (attorney-client privilege, search and seizure, probable cause, etc.) in such a great read. It confirmed my love for the law.

There is often a lot of debate around the term “activist judges.” What is your view of such debates? Is this a valid topic or a smokescreen? Is it something the public should worry about?
An activist judge may decide what he or she thinks the law should be, without regard to what it actually is. An activist judge acts as a legislator and blurs the lines between the branches of government. It is not the role of a city Court judge to render decisions that effectively rewrite laws and replace the role of elected legislators. With that being said, as a Judge, I do actively try to administer justice for our community and the people who come before the court. Lawbreakers need to be held accountable for their actions and as a Judge, my goal is to help them realize the value in being constructive members of our community. A judge can use many tools to get individuals to confront and address their problems, whether they are substance abuse issues, mental health issues, or basic issues revolving honesty while ordering appropriate and just consequences for their actions. (CLARIFICATION: On the first published version of this answer, we mistakenly left part of the question unhighlighted making it look like it was part of the answer.  It's now corrected.)

What is your view of jury nullification?
In rare situations, juries have been known to disregard the legal instructions given to them by a court when applying to facts of a particular case. As a sitting Judge, I have an absolute obligation to instruct a jury to follow the law and jurors swear an oath to do so. I have a sworn obligation to advise the jury on what the law is, and it's up to the jury to apply the law to the facts and determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence. If citizens do not like a particular law that has to be applied to a particular case, the remedy under our system of government is for them to persuade their representatives in the legislature to change the law, or to elect new representatives who will do so.

As the full-time City Court judge, will you ensure court staff is considerate and helpful in fulfilling requests for public court documents, and that all public documents are accessible upon request, and that members of the media can make copies of documents using their smartphones in order to avoid document copy fees?
In general, the media and members of the public may get copies of public documents upon appropriate request, yet they are not allowed to photograph documents. While I can certainly appreciate the changes in technology and the ease that this would allow, the decision on whether to allow photography of documents and the fees charged for copies of any documents, are policy decisions made by the New York State Office of Court Administration, not the Batavia City Court Judge. A local judge, part-time or full-time, simply does not have the authority to change these policies based on his or her own personal feeling.

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