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Walter, DiBenedetto nominated to replace Riverhead Town Justice Allen Smith

Candidates have been chosen to run in the Nov. 3 election for Riverhead Town Justice, a position that became vacant with the death of longtime judge Allen Smith on July 25.

Former town supervisor Sean Walter, 53, of Wading River will run for justice on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines, while Joseph DiBenedetto, 75, of Riverhead will run on the Democratic line.

The political committees were required to have their candidates for that seat ready within 10 days of the notice that Mr. Smith had died, according to Suffolk Republican chair Jesse Garcia.

Mr. Smith, who was appointed to the court in 2000, was up for reelection this year and was planning to run.

Joseph DiBenedetto

Mr. DiBenedetto has been teaching accounting at Pace University since 1971 and practicing law since 1977. He later taught law as well.

He plans to retire from Pace Aug. 31, and said a neighbor suggested he run for town justice.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Mr. DiBenedetto said. “The thing about the justice court is that it’s the only court that most people ever see. They are not going to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals.

“So it’s important they find someone there who knows how to listen and understands people. You have to be empathetic. Everybody’s different and we don’t want bad guys wandering the streets but you don’t want to punish good people either.”

Most of what goes through town court are traffic violations, he said.

Mr. DiBenedetto has lived in Riverhead for six years. He also maintained an apartment in Westchester County when he was teaching there, he said.

Sean Walter

Mr. Walter served as town supervisor for eight years, and was a deputy town attorney for just over five years, during which he prosecuted cases before the town justice court. He said he also worked for a private law firm in the past and often was in District Court, both in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“Allen Smith was a mentor to me, both as a young attorney and as town supervisor,” Mr. Walter said. “Whenever I needed something or had a question, Allen was always quick with a great answer.”

Mr. Walter said the winner of this election will have “big shoes to fill.”

“The judge position is interesting from the perspective and that when you see people — depending on what they’re in for — they could be appearing at the lowest points of their life, and how you treat that person is a direct reflection on the town,” Mr. Walter said. “I may be a ‘law and order’ conservative, but make no mistake about it, you have to have the respect and compassion. You have to have compassion toward people and you want how you act to be a direct reflection of how you want to town to be perceived.”

Mr. Walter has a law degree from St. John’s Law School and a bachelor’s degree from SUNY/Binghamton.

Before becoming an attorney, he worked as an environmental manager for the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton and a groundwater sampler at th Brookhaven Town landfill.