Sean Walter will be sworn in as Riverhead Town Justice on Thursday afternoon — in all likelihood, before the Nov. 3 election result is certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
Unofficial results of the Nov. 3 election have the Wading River Republican leading Joseph DiBenedetto (D-Riverhead) by a margin of 2,944 votes: 7,933 to 4,989. After in-person voting concluded on Nov. 3, there were more than 3,400 absentee ballots from Riverhead voters that remained to be counted, according to the Suffolk Board of Elections.
The election was to fill a vacancy in the town justice court created by the sudden passing of longtime Justice Allen Smith in July.
State law says when there’s a vacancy in the office of justice of the peace, the term of office for the person elected to the position commences on the day of the election and the new justice has 15 days to take the oath of office.
Suffolk election officials are counting absentee ballots this week and will conduct the official canvas of the vote, which is completed before they certify the election results, beginning next Monday.
Walter said he thought he’d be taking office Jan. 1 and was surprised to learn his term of office would begin immediately.
DiBenedetto said tonight there are not enough absentee ballots to change the result of the in-person voting, anyway.
“The town needs a second justice as soon as possible,” DiBenedetto said. It would be good if the county could certify the results before Walter takes the oath so that the matter is settled without question, he said.
Walter, 54, served four terms as Riverhead Town supervisor before losing his re-election bid in 2017 to Laura Jens-Smith. Walter previously worked as a deputy town attorney in Riverhead.
Walter and his wife Cathleen have three adult sons. They live in Wading River, where Walter maintains a law practice.
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