TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Judge Elizabeth Garry and Judge Brian Burns are two names that might not be very familiar to Tompkins County voters, though both are vying for seats on the bench of the New York State Supreme Court’s 6th Judicial District. The court’s jurisdiction covers 10 counties, including Tompkins County.

The race is the least competitive of all in this election cycle. While Garry, running on the Democrat and Independence party lines, and Burns, running as a Republican, are from different parties, they are essentially running unopposed since there are two spots open on the bench. The positions are also meant to be non-partisan. Regardless, voters will still see the race on the ballot and have a chance to vote for both, either or neither of the candidates.

Garry is looking to retain her bench spot, having originally been elected in 2006 and serving as a trial judge for five of the 10 counties in the district. She was then promoted to the Appellate Division in 2007 and in 2018 was named the presiding justice by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meaning she supervises the entire division’s operations, including admitting new attorneys and overseeing training programs for attorneys. With her term expiring, she is vying for another 14 year term with the New York Supreme Court 6th Judicial District.

Judge Elizabeth Garry (Photo from her website)

Before being elected to the supreme court, Garry was the Town Justice in New Berlin for five years, and before that she spent over a decade in private practice at the Joyce Law Firm in Sherburne, NY. Garry graduated from Alfred University in 1984 and then went to Albany Law School for her law degree. Reached by phone, Garry declined an interview because she is running unopposed.

Burns, on the other hand, was selected by the 6th District Republican Judicial Committee in August to replace former Supreme Court Justice Michael Coccoma. Burns was nearly finished with his second 10 year term as a judge in Otsego County when he was nominated for the state Supreme Court position, and subsequently withdrew his name for a third term on the Otsego County bench.

Though Burns did not respond to inquiries for comment, there is information available about his educational background and work experience before becoming a judge in 2001. Burns graduated from Syracuse University in 1985 and obtained his law degree from Suffolk University Law School six years later.

Nearly all of his legal experience has come in Otsego County. He started his career in the Otsego County District Attorney’s Office as the chief assistant district attorney and acting district attorney starting in 1992, then worked as a city prosecutor for the City of Oneonta from 1993 to 1997. Subsequent to that, he was employed as a school attorney for the Otsego Northern Catskill BOCES, beginning in 1998 and lasting until he was elected to the bench of the Otsego County Court.

Burns’ website specifically cites his work with drug offenders, as he oversaw the Otsego Coutny Drug Treatment Court and was elected to serve on the New York Association of Drug Treatment Court Professionals Board of Directors and belongs to the National Association of Drug Treatment Courts.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at