“Son, never do in law what you don’t want your mother to read on the front page of the Poughkeepsie Journal.”
Those were the words Justice Jonah Triebwasser recalls longtime Red Hook attorney Bill Walsh telling him when he was admitted to the New York State Bar Association in 1980. “He shook my hand, and I’ve been on my merry way ever since.”
Fortunately for Red Hook, “Judge Jonah”—as he is known today—and his wife, Ellen, found their way to Red Hook in 1979. She had a job offer in Albany, he in Wingdale. “So we put our finger half-way between—on Red Hook—and it has been the happiest of happenstances,” Triebwasser says with a smile. “We’ve had a wonderful life here.”
That included raising two children, Tom, now 30, and Alison, now 27, who were both born at Northern Dutchess Hospital and graduated from Red Hook High School—“where they got a terrific education”—and it features more than 30 years of dedicated community involvement.
Presiding over Red Hook’s courtrooms—he has been elected both Red Hook Town and Village Justice since 2007—gives Triebwasser the perfect opportunity to “give back to the community that’s been so good to us.” He and fellow Town and Acting Village Justice Jeffrey Martin handle criminal and civil cases (small claims up to $3,000), and they take pride in “treating people as we would want to be treated: with dignity and fairness.”
“If you do that, you won’t have a can of peas thrown at your head when you’re shopping at Hannaford,” Triebwasser says with a laugh.
In a typical month, he oversees 60 to 75 traffic offenses, such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs. But Red Hook’s No. 1 criminal issue, he says, is drunk driving, which averages one arrest a week in the village.
He advises those charged with crimes to get an experienced criminal defense lawyer or, if they can’t afford one, he or Martin can assign one from the Dutchess County Public Defender’s Office.
What’s the No. 1 deterrent to juvenile crime?
“Parental involvement. If a youth appears before me, with father glaring and mom sniffling, I’m pretty certain that’ll be the only appearance. Parents who wear out their mini-vans hauling their kids from one activity to another are not standing in my court,” Triebwasser says.
Having arrived in town when Bill Walsh still occasionally rode his horse, Vicky, to his law office on West Market Street, Judge Jonah believes Red Hook has absorbed the changes of the past 35 years very well.
“It’s still a peaceful, safe, small town. And the new people have really added to our community spirit,” he says.