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Oct 28, 2009 1:23 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Andy Hammer: A new challenger

Oct 28, 2009 1:23 PM

Republican Town Justice candidate Andy Hammer has an easy time remembering his first interaction with the East Hampton Town Justice Court. He was a young man, who’d just bought his first four-wheel-drive vehicle, and took it out for a test drive on the beach in Montauk without a permit. When he appeared in front of Town Justice James Ketchum, his punishment was to write a report on environmental restoration.

That experience stuck with Mr. Hammer, who is now 40, through his studies at Cornell University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, and his training as an environmental lawyer at Vermont Law School. Mr. Hammer has also done environmental law work for The Peconic Land Trust and for several conservation groups in California, and served as an assistant town attorney in East Hampton between 2000 and 2003 before going into private practice with George Biondo in Montauk.

“I think I’m always looking for the next thing, thinking ‘how best can you challenge yourself,’” he said. “I feel I’m in touch with the local pulse.”

While an assistant town attorney, Mr. Hammer prosecuted zoning cases and as a private attorney, he now defends clients in criminal and traffic cases, primarily in East Hampton and Southampton. He said that his experience on both sides has helped him develop a respect for the give-and-take of the judicial process that will serve him well on the bench.

“I’ve done a lot of different things and I’ve loved every one of them. I bring a fresh new perspective on how I think the court can be improved,” he said.

In particular, Mr. Hammer would like to change the court’s Monday lineup of zoning cases, which currently stands at about 240 active cases.

“That’s an enormous caseload. It’s not respectful to the people that use the system,” he said “You’ve gotta respect people’s time, the town’s time and the attorneys’ time.”

Mr. Hammer said that he is very disappointed with how the town’s new Justice Court was built, most critically with the lack of security screening in the building. As a case in point, he said he recently appeared in court in Riverhead with the same bag he’d been carrying to the East Hampton court for weeks, only to be stopped by security after the metal detectors picked up a gift from one of his clients that he’d forgotten about.

“I was walking around with a clam knife in my bag,” he said. “I took it to Riverhead and they said, ‘Why do you have a clam knife in your bag?’ I said ‘I’m from Montauk.’”

Mr. Hammer said that he is also concerned by the low revenue the Justice Court brings in, compared with how much revenue the town budgets for from the court.

“I don’t think the Justice Court’s job is to backfill the town’s pocket with money. We shouldn’t have target fine levels,” he said. “But the case log is adjourned for months on end. People are waiting.”

Mr. Hammer said that he believes the number-one issue facing East Hampton is drugs and added that he saw the ill effects drug problems had while he was working near Los Angeles in the mid-1990s.

“This issue will rot the community from the core out,” he said. “I know what’s going on in this community. Heroin is in East Hampton right now.”

Mr. Hammer said that he also recently met with pastors from Latino churches in East Hampton and has pledged to learn to speak Spanish this year. He already speaks French and Latin. He said that many people at the meeting offered to volunteer to work as translators in the court.

“The interpreter system is not responsive. I think that should be a priority for the Justice Court,” he said.

He also said that he finds it intriguing that so few trials are held in East Hampton Justice Court, and of those trials, most are jury trials, not bench trials.

“People don’t think they’ll be treated fairly,” he said.

Mr. Hammer said that his campaign is not about sitting Justice Catherine Cahill’s record, though he did highlight that Ms. Cahill has not worked as a defense attorney. “My opponent hasn’t been on both sides,” he said.

Mr. Hammer stressed that he felt an obligation to serve the town but did not expect to make a career out of being a town justice if he wins the elecction. “Justice Court isn’t where I want to be in 16 years, but the community has an obligation to put in people who are doing it for the right reason,” he said. “The job needs to be done by someone who wants to do it and who cares about doing it. It’s a disservice to the community to not examine what the alternatives are.”

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Speaking Latin will help with the Latinos. - - - Ba-dum-BUMP!
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Oct 13, 09 8:46 PM
By T.J. (31), WHB on Oct 14, 09 8:38 AM
My point is that a Justice Court should not have a judge for life. It is an honorable and wonderful way to contribute to your community. However, it is a difficult job that is full time despite its part time billing. And I would think that it would be easy to be burned out or to have your own personality consume the position. I truly feel that this position demands periodic change in perspective and context to fulfill its intended function. As the community changes, our Justice Court has to ...more
By Andy Hammer (5), Springs on Oct 20, 09 5:08 PM
Thank you for you interest and the respect you have shown this important position.
By Andy Hammer (5), Springs on Oct 22, 09 9:55 AM
Change is good, and often necessary. You've got my vote. Best wishes to you and the rest of the team on Tuesday.
By debhallissey (1), East Hampton on Oct 30, 09 4:24 PM