Princetown fights judge over jobless benefits
PRINCETOWN Princetown officials are legally contesting an unemployment claim Town Justice Michelle Van Woeart filed after the town removed her from a clerk’s position she held in her own court.
Town officials are expected to appear before an administrative law judge with the state Department of Labor next week to argue against Van Woeart receiving unemployment benefits. Town Supervisor Mike Joyce said she began filing for unemployment shortly after the town formally announced the court clerk’s position was open in early October.
“We’re contesting it, saying she still has a job,” he said of Van Woeart’s elected position as judge.
Van Woeart was a court clerk when she became town justice in 1997. She kept both positions after taking office — something that is legal under certain circumstances in town and village justice courts.
But the state Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion last year that the town interpreted as indicating the position of clerk is incompatible with the position of town justice in the same court. Van Woeart disagreed with the town’s interpretation of the opinion and was adamant about keeping the clerk’s position.
Van Woeart was making $19,548 per year as a justice and $26,667 as clerk. Town officials opted to stop paying her clerk’s salary as of Oct. 10; Joyce said they continued to pay her health insurance benefits through 2012 as a kind gesture.
It was unclear how much money, if any, she collected in unemployment. Town Attorney Mike Cuevas and Stephen DeNigris, the labor attorney representing Van Woeart, did not return calls seeking comment.
Contacted by email Monday, Van Woeart did not offer a comment about her claim.
Van Woeart is contesting the town’s decision to remove her from the clerk’s position in an Article 78 proceeding she filed in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County in November.