Meet Carl Becker: Seeks re-election as judge
By Trish Adams
Judge Carl Becker likes to tell you he runs a “hot bench,” and if you think that he’s talking about the three courts, the 3,000 family court cases and the 100-some criminal cases he must oversee each year, in addition to drug court and surrogate court and trying to rifle through more than 200 pistol permits a year and review 90-some foster child cases semi-annually, well, you’d be wrong. “Hot” bench refers to the difference between a judge who has waded through the five-inch briefs before the case comes before him or a “cold” bench, where the justice truly does walk in blind, hoping he can manage the proceedings from the sheet music he finds in front of him.
Decade on the job
Taking as his motto, “Practical, Fair and Hard-working,” in the 10 years since elected, Judge Becker has seen more than 800 felony cases and shepherded 10,000 cases through family court. He characterizes the caseload in one word: “crushing.”
He opened Delaware County’s first Drug Treatment Court. While he acknowledges that it isn’t a panacea and has its own high rate of recidivism, it costs hundreds of dollars per case instead of the $60,000 it takes to incarcerate someone for a year. He estimates the drug court has already saved a million dollars since 2005.
In 2011 Judge Becker was appointed as Acting Supreme Court Justice for the Sixth Judicial District, the first from Delaware County in 40 years.
Because New York State is in a money crunch, court employees cannot earn overtime. “That means court time is very precious, and it also means I’ve got to be here catching up, long after other employees have to go home. I’m here very late sometimes, even on Sundays. It’s a 55-hour week, and I get up every day happy to be coming here.”
Becker thrives in the courtroom environment, but also takes pride in showing classrooms of schoolchildren around the court system. He came to Delaware County four decades ago, right out of law school and went to work with Social Services as a family court prosecutor.
Always something new
One of the challenges he faces is keeping up with ever-changing legislation, especially in the area of family law, where even something as basic as the job of the child’s law guardian has fundamentally shifted in the past decade. “Instead of advocating for the child’s best interest, that guardian must now advocate for whatever that child wants, regardless, and as the judge, I must understand how that affects how I can rule in those cases.”
He speaks with passion about how many cases involve people “who grew up in war zones,” psychologically and often physically. “This requires a whole special set of skills to work with people. It’s not like talking to a pair of siblings squabbling around the kitchen table.”
“I think it’s important to not have an environment of hostility or fear, but one where people feel listened to,” he says, although he admits scant patience when he sees a lawyer grand-standing. On the issue of temperament, he is also unapologetic about his reputation: “As an authority of the state, it is my job sometimes to express the outrage that we as a community feel, for instance, when someone has been raping their own daughter for three years.” He knows that his opinions and sometimes his style might not please everyone. “I figure if a fair share of people are mad at you, you must be making some tough decisions.”
Meet Carl Becker:
Clarkson University, Albany Law School
Family: Christine, son, Jon, and a daughter and son-in-law, Valerie and Ross McKillip, and a granddaughter, Violet.
Past president, Delaware County Bar Association where he served a two-year term as its president.
Education lecturer on Family Court issues for the American Bar Association, the Albany Law School Government Law Center, the New York State Public Welfare Association and the Delaware County Bar Association
Caseworker trainings for Cornell University
Stamford Presbyterian Church, Sunday School Teacher, deacon, elder, Pastoral Search Committee member.
Stamford Rotary Club, country contact for Rotary’s Exchange Student Program for Central New York exchange students
Otschodela Council of the Boy Scouts of America, board member and chairman of the Risk Management Committee
Likes golfing, deer hunting, moose and caribou hunting in Canada, Delaware County history and maps.