A former Washington County judge expressed his frustration Friday over a proposal to name the county’s courthouse in honor of retired justice Thomas Mercure.
Former justice and Granville resident Phil Berke characterized the proposal as unfair.
“I’m extremely upset,” Berke said.
“Singling out one judge over all the others is not fair and is not the right thing to do.”
Berke said he had “no problem” with Mercure, but felt he should be honored in the same fashion as other judges.
He said the Washington County Courthouse has photographs of every Washington County justice dating back to the late 18th century, including photos of himself and Mercure.
“Of course we should honor Judge Mercure, but like we do any other judge,” Berke said. “I was in a lot of courthouses during my career, but I’ve never been in a courthouse named after a judge.
I have no ulterior motive. My only motive is to treat all judges fairly.”
Mercure, who recently retired, began his legal career in Washington County in 1973 as an assistant district attorney. He was elected district attorney in 1977 and in 1981, at the age of 36, was elected Washington County Judge, which at the time made him the youngest serving county judge in the state.
A year later he was elected to the New York Supreme Court and in 1988 was appointed to the Appellate Division, Third Department. He also served as administrative judge of the third judicial district.
Mercure was the longest serving Supreme Court Justice in the history of the Fourth Judicial District and served on the Judicial Ethics Commission for 14 years, including seven as chairman. During his career, he received a number of awards for his service, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Office of Court Administration and the Washington County Bar Association’s Berkowitz Award. The latter is named for Berke’s father, Albert Berkowitz, a state senator from Granville. It was only the second time the award has been given out since it was created in 2008.
Although Berke didn’t dispute Mercure’s track record, he said there are other justices, including himself, who have similar achievements.
Berke, who served in Washington County for nearly 40 years, including 24 as county judge, was the senior judge when the Washington County Courthouse was built.
“I’d stack my achievements against Mercure and other judges. My record was built in Washington County because I stayed here. I could have served on the Supreme Court, but I didn’t.
“To honor Judge Mercure by naming the court after him is far off. It’s a slap in the face to the other judges that have served. I can’t imagine anyone here naming Building A after a supervisor. You wouldn’t name this room (Washington County Supervisors’ Chamber) after a supervisor.”
Despite his impassioned plea to reconsider the proposal, it was approved by the board of supervisors without discussion. Cambridge Supervisor Cassie Fedler abstained while Supervisors Darlene Dumas (Fort Ann), Sara Idelman (Greenwich), Brian Campbell (Hebron) and Seth Pitts (Salem) were absent and therefore did not vote. Everyone else voted in favor of the proposal.
Supervisors Matt Hicks and Dave O’Brien declined to comment on the matter.