In his race for state Supreme Court, Judge Patrick McGrath sent letters this week to thousands of pistol permit holders saying he will not abandon them should he win higher office.
McGrath, who has served on the Rensselaer County Court bench for the past 14 years, addressed the letter to "Dear Fellow Pistol Permit Holder" and said he has signed more than 20,000 permits and amendments to permits since 1994. He has had the sole responsibility for pistol permits in Rensselaer County.
The holder of a permit for nine years, the judge wrote in bold letters, "My pistol permit is very important to me as I know yours is to you."
McGrath, 55, a Troy Democrat is seeking a 14-year-term on state Supreme Court in the Third Judicial District, and should he win a spot on that bench, his chambers will still be in the Rensselaer County Courthouse, "and I will still be responsible for all pistol permits in Rensselaer County," he wrote, also in bold.
Although his opponent on Nov. 4, incumbent Republican Justice Anthony Carpinello, took issue with the letter, McGrath said he's comfortable with it.
"I received a lot of inquiries," McGrath said Friday. "A lot of holders wanted to know what would happen if I become a Supreme Court judge."
He said he has "established a pretty good relationship with all the rod and gun clubs over the years, and they have been happy with the way I handle permits." Some club members told McGrath they weren't going to vote for him because they wanted him to remain a county judge.
The letter was "an informational thing," the judge said, although he couldn't say how many were sent out, other than it was in the thousands.
He said he obtained names and addresses through a Freedom of Information request, saying it's a public record and such information is used all the time for political purposes.
McGrath is trying to unseat Carpinello, 60, of East Greenbush, seeking re-election to a second 14-year term. Carpinello, who serves on the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, found fault with the letter not because it dealt with the licensing of firearms but rather because of what it said.
"I am pro-Second Amendment and believe in the constitutional right to bear arms, but I feel the tone of the letter is problematic," Carpinello said. "The clear tone ... is that I'm a pro-pistol permit judge,"
Carpinello doesn't have a permit but has issued many while serving in Albany and Ulster counties as a trial-level judge. The Third Judicial District encompasses seven counties.
"I don't think it's appropriate for a judge to say ... that 'I'm pro pistol permit,' Carpinello said.
"Every application should be judged on its own merits, so I think there's some ethical implications to the tone of the letter."
He also takes issue with the part stating if elected to Supreme Court McGrath would continue to handle permits, calling that "inaccurate. There is absolutely no authority in law for that statement," he said.
In Rensselaer County, it's customary for county judges to handle permits. If McGrath is elected to Supreme Court, a new county judge could get the task or it could be assigned to the other county judge, Robert Jacon, Carpinello said.
Meanwhile, McGrath survived a challenge to his Working Families Party nomination and will have that line.
Allegations were the Working Families Party didn't have a quorum at its judicial nominating convention. Supreme Court Justice Michael Lynch in Albany ruled there was adequate representation, a decision upheld by the Appellate Division.
The Court of Appeals declined to hear the case Friday.