Candidate for judge currently lives out of county but stresses her local roots

Photos by Tom Rivers: Tonia Ettinger, center, met with leaders of the Conservative and Democratic parties in Orleans County on Sunday at Hoag Library. Ettinger is pictured with Al Lofthouse, the Conservative Party chairman, and Jeanne Crane, the Democratic Party chairwoman.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 September 2017 at 12:01 pm

Tonia Ettinger was born in Albion and graduated from Medina

ALBION – Tonia Ettinger believes she has the résumé and experience to be the next Orleans County judge.

But she acknowledged to supporters on Sunday that she may not have the name recognition. Ettinger, in fact, currently doesn’t live in the county.

She and her fiancé Paul Fuller live in Farmington, Ontario County, with their 7-year-old son, Blake. Mr. Fuller ran for county judge in 2010 with the backing of the Conservative Party. He faced incumbent Jim Punch.

Punch was re-elected to a 10-year term, getting 78 percent of the vote versus Fuller. Punch retired on July 29, leaving about three years on his term.

The Republican Party is backing Sanford Church, an Albion attorney and the county’s public defender. He appeared to have no opposition for the job with near unanimous support from attorneys in the county.

The Conservative and Democratic parties, however, backed Ettinger just before the nominating deadline.

She met with leaders of the two parties on Sunday at Hoag Library. They discussed a plan for getting out yard signs with her name and promoting her campaign in other ways.

“I would certainly love the chance to move back home,” Ettinger told about a dozen people from the two parties. “This is where I spent the majority of my life.”

Tonia Ettinger listens to Al Capurso, a Democratic Party candidate for Orleans County legislator.

Ettinger, 39, was born at the former Arnold Gregory Memorial Hospital in Albion. She lived in Holley before moving to Medina, where she graduated. She earned a law degree at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

She worked in private practice, with most of her cases in Orleans, and was president of the Orleans County Bar Association from 2008 to 2010. She started her career working out of the Orleans County Child Support Collection Unit.

For the past eight years she has worked at the Legal Aid Society in Rochester in the Juvenile Justice Division. In her job with Legal Aid, Ettinger works with low-income clients from birth to age 21, representing them in various proceedings, including abuse, neglect, guardianship, paternity, custody, visitation, orders of protection, juvenile delinquencies, persons in need of supervision, and termination of parental rights.

She said her experience the past decade has given her exposure to State Supreme, Surrogate, Family and Criminal courts. Ettinger said some have questioned if she has done criminal cases. She has represented juvenile delinquents who have committed crimes.

“In my current job I get exposure to all the different types of law that a county court judge here would hear,” Ettinger told the Democratic and Conservative party leaders. “I think that makes me qualified for this job more so than if it would be if it just a county court position.”

Ettinger declined to discuss her positions on issues, saying a judge needs to be impartial and not prejudge a case.

“My passion is people,” she said. “A judge is a perfect role to serve.”

Al Lofthouse, chairman of the Conservative Party, and Jeanne Crane, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, both said they wanted Orleans County voters to have a choice on Nov. 7.

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