The two candidates running for the Village of Great Neck’s Village Justice position both touted their desire to conduct fair trials for everyone who enters the courtroom and a passion for serving the community ahead of the June 15 elections.
Incumbent Mark Birnbaum is being challenged by David Kirsch, an attorney of the Barton Law Group focusing on criminal law and estate planning as well as labor and employment law. Kirsch attended Hofstra University for his undergraduate education before attending Touro College in 2003, where he received his juris doctorate in criminal law three years later.
Prior to working at the Barton Law Group, located in Huntington Station, Kirsch served eight years as an associate attorney for Koehler and Isaacs LLP. Kirsch represented clients in criminal, labor and disciplinary cases.
Kirsch said his first job out of school as an attorney was working at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, where he served as an assistant to former DA Robert Johnson. Kirsch handled crimes ranging from narcotics to violent felonies.
“We sort of ran the gamut there because I was there for quite some time as a prosecutor,” Kirsch said in a phone interview with Blank Slate Media.
Running the gamut is nothing new to Birnbaum either. He graduated from Hofstra University’s law school in 1977 and has practiced law in Great Neck for nearly two decades, focusing on commercial business and real estate cases.
Birnbaum, whose wife is Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck), was appointed to a commissioner position on the Great Neck Senior Housing Authority 30 years ago. He said his roles included interacting with officials on the local and federal levels, advocating for residents’ needs and maintaining fiscal responsibility in this position.
Birnbaum then transitioned into a spot on the Village of Great Neck’s Zoning Board for a number of years, eventually serving as chairman of the committee. In 2002, Birnbaum ran a successful campaign for a trustee position on the village’s Board of Trustees, where he would continue to serve until 2012. In the early stages of his trustee tenure, Birnbaum was appointed the liaison for the Nassau County Police Department, the village’s public safety commissioner and the Great Neck police commissioner. In 2013, Birnbaum shifted roles once again when he was elected as village justice, then re-elected again in 2017.
In a phone interview with Blank Slate Media, Birnbaum, who is running on the Good Neighbor party line, said the role he serves in the village means too great a deal to him to simply not run again.
“I have too much affection for the village to just walk away,” Birnbaum said. “Just because somebody filed [a challenging] petition doesn’t mean I should.”
Birnbaum said his days in the courtroom consist mainly of traffic, parking, moving and direct village code violations. Kirsch, despite having less experience in village government than Birnbaum, said the justice’s routine offenses are well within his realm of expertise.
“I’ve been dealing with this every day for 15 years,” Kirsch said. “I have dealt with both sides of the aisle as a prosecutor and I’ve dealt with it as a defense attorney. I feel that my qualifications spea for themselves.”
Birnbaum spoke about some of the other aspects that he believes a village justice should incorporate into their tenure. Over the past eight years, he said he has reduced waste and expenditures throughout the court by more than 25 percent, touting the importance of having an efficient and fiscally responsible court system. Birnbaum also said he takes pride in reducing some of the stress the traditional courtroom experience creates for offenders.
“Going to court is a stressful situation for anybody,” Birnbaum said. “Even to me, as an attorney, there’s still a little bit of stress when you go before a judge and you’re approaching the bench. And I feel very strongly that people need to be as comfortable as possible during their time in the village court.”
The more youthful offenders, Birnbaum said, are typically present in court with a parent for some traffic or moving violation. He said these situations are a way to apply fair sentences that he believes instill a sense of reasonable accountability for a younger offender.
Kirsch also touted the need to have the courtroom be a fair and impartial an experience for every party involved. Working as both a prosecuting and defense attorney, he said, the need for a fair trial is a paramount concern for him if elected.
“I would hope that everybody that comes before me and I know everyone that comes before me would be treated fairly and impartially, irrespective of their background,” Kirsch said. “I definitely value the concept of being fair and impartial in a courtroom.”
Both Birnbaum and Kirsch have worked with various groups and organizations throughout the community, and both cited their desire to continue serving the village as reasons for running.
Kirsch said he has served as the vice president of security for Young Israel of Great Neck for the past several years, along with being a member of the synagogue’s Executive Board. Serving in those positions, he said, involved trying to secure federal grant packages to help make the building more secure. Kirsch said he went on to expand his efforts to various other houses of worship to partake in securing those grants as well.
“I pretty much have a coalition of many [houses of worship] that have joined me and we meet with local, state, and federal representatives monthly for the purpose of making our places more secure,” Kirsch said.
Birnbaum said he is an active member of Temple Israel, serving in a variety of positions in the synagogue over the years, including as president of the Couples Club, chairman of the Catering Committee, a trustee, vice president, and first vice president on the board. He has also volunteered his services as general counsel to the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce for more than 15 years.
“It has been an honor to serve the people of the Village of Great Neck for over 30 years and, given the opportunity, to continue to serve for another four years as the Village Justice,” Birnbaum said.
The village justice race is the lone contested election in the village and the winner will serve a four-year term. Voters can cast their ballot at the Village Hall on 61 Baker Hill Road from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.