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Election 2020: Riverhead justice seat up for grabs

Republican Sean Walter, 54, of Wading River and Democrat Joseph DiBenedetto, 75, of Riverhead will face each other in a race to fill a Riverhead Town Justice seat left vacant by the sudden death of longtime judge Allen Smith on July 25. Mr. Walter also has the backing of the Conservative and Independence parties.

• Mr. Walter was Riverhead Town supervisor for eight years before losing to Laura Jens-Smith in 2017. He also has served as a deputy town attorney for five years, and he has maintained a private law practice. 

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 the Brookhaven Town landfill. 

“I may be a ‘law and order’ conservative, but make no mistake about it, you have to have the respect and compassion,” Mr. Walter said in a recent interview.

• Mr. DiBenedetto recently retired as a professor of Legal Studies and Taxation at Pace University, a position he held since 1971.

He received his undergraduate degree from Villanova University in 1967 and a law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1975.

He has been practicing law since 1977 and later taught law as well. 

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

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Mr. DiBenedetto said in a recent interview. “The thing about the justice court is that it’s the only court that most people ever see.”

He said a judge has 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,” he said.