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Two vie to be Keene town justice

KEENE — Two women are vying for a town justice seat in the town of Keene.

Barbara Dwyer, running on the independent Dwyer line, and Henrietta Jordan, on the Justice For All line, are seeking to fill a vacancy in the court left by the resignation of Deb Whitson in March. The slot has been left vacant since then, in part because the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shuttered the court.

Dwyer, 68, is a local accountant who has served on a number of boards over the years. She served on the North Country Community College Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015, and as chairwoman of the board from 2014 to 2015. She also served on the boards for the Keene Valley Neighborhood House, Champlain Valley BOCES and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County.

“I have had an adult life of community service,” she said.

“For the first time in ages, I don’t have any monthly meetings or evening meetings, so I have the time,” Dwyer added when asked why she’s running. “I think I bring to the position an open-mindedness and an ear to hear what’s really going on.”

Dwyer said she’s “not looking for any change” within the town court.

Dwyer graduated from Ithaca College in 1974. She went to the University of Vermont for her Master of Business Administration degree in accounting, and also studied at Johns Hopkins University for a semester. She’s originally from the Washington, D.C., area but moved to this area in 1974. She’s been a year-round resident ever since and raised her family here.

Jordan, who is also 68, ran against Bill Harral for a town justice seat in the last election cycle, but Harral secured the spot.

Jordan is a Keene Valley native who lived in Vermont for many years. After graduating from college, Jordan worked for a Head Start program, developed a victim assistance program for the Child Protection Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, chaired the Vermont Victims Compensation Commission, and served as the executive director of three nonprofit organizations. She was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1998 and served two terms.

After she left office, Jordan moved back home to Keene Valley in 2003 and worked for the Land Trust Alliance. She served as a board member of the Keene Valley Neighborhood House and the High Peaks Education Foundation, directed the Keene Central School Community Education Program for three years and has experience with grant writing, property law and legal research. She has also worked as an independent consultant, and for the Adirondack Land Trust. Jordan also runs a guest house and volunteers.

“I’m still pretty busy, but I like the idea of being town justice because … my current work brings me into sorting out a number of legal issues, particularly regarding property rights. I’ve always had a love for the law,” she said.

Jordan was enrolled in law school when she was younger, but dropped out and had children, with the intention of going back to school someday. She ultimately fell into advocacy work, she said.

If elected, Jordan said she hopes to make information about the court more accessible and make the operations of the court more efficient, obtain grant funding to update the court’s technology, and streamline the court filing system.

“There’s been an ongoing issue of record keeping and record storage. I have heard from a previous town justice that that whole system could be improved,” she said. “There’s also the issue that the technology our town relies on is kind of old. One of the things that needs to be done is to apply for a grant from the (state) Unified Court System for a new computer system that would help with the data entry. You have to log on and report to the Unified Court System website, the various sites where you have to report the disposition of cases that come before you. I do think getting a new system in place would really help with that.”

In the past, Jordan has been very vocal about politics, from a Democratic Party perspective. She said if elected, she understands that would mean putting politics aside.

“I do understand that if I am elected to this position, I will have to put all of that aside to maintain the integrity of a local court,” she said. “There has to be a perception that the judge is unbiased, unswayed by personal opinions and perceptions and everyone is treated equally under the law.”

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