ITHACA, N.Y. — A Chemung County judge who has dedicated his professional career to helping low-income clients will be helping with Tompkins domestic violence cases beginning in January.
Judge Richard Rich and Tompkins County Judge Joseph Cassidy will be dividing cases in the Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Long-time Judge John Rowley is still presiding over other cases in different Tompkins courts, but is stepping down in January from the IDV Court.
“Judge Rowley has been personally helpful to me and is reputed to be one of the best judges in the region,” Rich said. “They’re very big shoes (to fill).”
Rich is a Horseheads native who graduated from the State University of New York Geneseo before graduating from Cornell University in 1994.
He said he’s dedicated most of his career to “leveling the playing field” for low-income clients.
“I’ve always felt that the poor have been deprived adequate legal counsel,” he said, particularly people who are already incarcerated.
He said that representing convicted people who were accused of wrongdoing while incarcerated become a specialty for him over the years. He said he always expected to lose those cases but ended up with a pretty good track record — about a 50 percent success rate while representing inmates.
“I enjoyed the work.” he said. “It was professionally rewarding.”
From 2013 to 2014, Rich worked as a public advocate, handling cases that involved indigent people who could not be represented by the Public Defender’s Office because of conflicts.
Despite loving his work, he said he decided to run for judge and was elected about two years ago.
“I think I had gotten to the point in my career where I was tired of fighting all the time,” he said, adding that he felt ready to help resolve cases instead.
He said that in Tompkins County, he can’t imagine that he’ll do a better job as judge than Rowley. But he’s committed, he said, to trying his best to fill Rowley’s shoes.