DANNEMORA - When Ruth M. Snyder became Dannemora's village justice nearly 30 years ago, it was a role she never would have imagined herself taking on.
Snyder was approached by the village board of trustees about her interest in running for the vacant seat not long after the sudden passing of her husband, Robert. She recalled she needed some form of income to pay bills and the taxes on her home and the job was something that would help her do just that.
"I had to do something," said Snyder.
Though she had no background in the legal system and hadn't worked outside her home in several years, Snyder took on the challenge, won her seat and officially took office as the village's first female justice on Oct. 1, 1979.
Almost immediately, Snyder knew she was in for quite the learning curve. However, through the help of some New York State Police officers stationed in the village at the time, Snyder was able to get an education on the basics of law enforcement and how authorities interacted with the court.
"I had never even seen a parking ticket before so they brought me all their law books and that helped me before I went to school for training," said Snyder.
Dan Mitchell, Plattsburgh's town justice at the time, and then town justice of Schuyler Falls Roger Dashnaw, were two men Snyder said she learned a lot from as she established her career. She remembers sitting in on court appearances Mitchell handled and it wasn't long before she asked him if presiding over cases dealt mainly with common sense.
"He said that if I already realized that I'll make a good judge," she recalled with a laugh.
Throughout the years, the court system itself has changed in many ways, said Snyder. Paperwork once done by hand or by typewriter evolved into being electronically filed. State mandates have increased the amount of paperwork significantly, she said, leading her to be in the court much longer than she used to working on cases.
"Since I have taken office, the work has more than tripled," said Snyder.
Regardless, Snyder doesn't complain. She still spends her Tuesday afternoons in the court room preparing for several hours before she holds session later that night. On Friday afternoons, she returns to organize more paperwork. On the days in between, she's always thinking about her cases and stands by in the event she is needed for a mandatory arraignment of a suspect.
"When you're a judge, you're on-duty 24 hours a day," said Snyder. "Sometimes, you get called out in the middle of the night. And, I've never refused going."
Though the majority of her cases have dealt with vehicle and traffic violations and civil matters, ones that take up much of her time are cases dealing with people importing contraband into Clinton Correction Facility.
"It keeps you kind of busy," Snyder said of her cases.
When Snyder steps down from the bench March 31, that busyness will end and she will find more things to occupy her days like spending time with her family.
"I'll probably relax more," she said, laughing.
Village residents Kristine Bowman and Daniel L. Lucia are the two candidates running for Snyder's seat and regardless of who takes her place, Snyder said she has some words of advice for the new justice.
"Treat everyone the same way, whether you know them or don't know them. Because, if you treat people right, they'll treat you the same way," said Snyder. "And, don't take any cases involving your relatives. I've read about that happening with other towns and villages, and I've always been very careful not to do that."