Serving as Assistant Public Defender for Montgomery County for eight years, serving as an alderman, corporation counsel, and school board member, as well as being a husband and father raising a family in the city, are all part of the life experiences that Gerard DeCusatis says would make him an effective full-time City Court Judge.
In an interview last week, DeCusatis recalled growing up on Wilkes Avenue in Amsterdam and graduating from Amsterdam High School. He went on to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983. After working in the nuclear power field in the US Navy, and later in the private sector, DeCusatis changed his career course after meeting his wife Mary. He credited her father, former mayor Frank Martuscello, and her brother William Martuscello, as two people who influenced him to begin studying law. He graduated with honors in 1994 from Albany Law School and then opened his private practice in 1995.
In addition to his own practice, DeCusatis currently serves as the Corporation Counsel for the City of Amsterdam, a position he has held since 2008. In the past he has served two terms on the Common Council, one term on the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education, and as Civil Service Commissioner with the city for seven years. He also currently serves on the Board of Governors for the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal and as Village Attorney for both Canajoharie and Hagaman.
“I think my experience across many different areas of practice form a good basis to seek the position,” said DeCusatis.
Serving as a public defender for eight years allowed DeCusatis to gain plenty of experience in the courtroom. According to DeCusatis, some of the most frequent cases in the city court are those involving domestic violence. He said often times, the problems are cyclical, as family members repeat a pattern of fighting and reconciliation.
“There’s this constant ebb and flow of basically chaos. And that chaos damages the children who are more than likely present to witness it,” said DeCusatis.
He said a city court judge has an important role in the resolution of cases, especially in sentencing a defendant who is found guilty, or working with the district attorney and defense attorney to agree on a plea bargain.
“In that context there is an opportunity for the court to try to craft a resolution to these cases that might benefit the family structure and prevent that cycle of domestic violence,” said Decusatis.
Addressing the underlying causes of violence is key. DeCusatis said that substance abuse, money problems, psychological problems, or other learned behavior problems are often factors in the cases. He suggested in certain cases, a probation sentence tailored to addressing those issues could be warranted.
“Ideally if you can fix that, then we’re not coming back to court constantly on the same types of charges year after year,” he said.
“The nature of people’s lives and their circumstances in crafting a sentence is important as well,” said DeCusatis. “Because ultimately justice has to take into account the status of a person, especially when setting a fine, for example. You need to look at their economic standing. You need to look at their record of conduct. A person who has a record of many violations is going to be treated differently, and should be treated differently, than a person who has never broken the law before and it’s their first time in front of a court.”
DeCusatis said he enjoys the challenge of looking at a difficult situation and making it better, and has been able to do that as Corporation Counsel for the city and hopes to pursue that challenge as City Court Judge.
Besides his work and public service experience, DeCusatis said that growing up, living, and raising three children with his wife in the Amsterdam community are all experiences that contribute to making good judicial decisions.
“For any judge, the totality of that judge’s life experience affects how they do their job. Because that’s really the experience you draw from that determine whether your actions are proportionate and appropriate for the circumstances.”
“I know the values and expectations of the community,” he added. “I think all that is part of the experience that you should bring to the office.”
DeCusatis is running on the Democratic and Green party lines and will face candidate Lisa Lorman in a primary for those lines on September 10. William Mycek is also running for the position on the Republican and Conservative party lines and will also face Lorman in a primary on those lines on September 10.