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By Mike Hudson

Kathleen Wojtaszek-Gariano -- who served a stint as City Court judge here in 2001 -- announced her candidacy for the Niagara County Family Court seat being vacated by retiring Judge David Seaman at the end of this year, and nothing could make us happier.

Wojtaszek-Gariano has always had a passion for family law and children's rights.

After being admitted to the New York State Bar in 1994, she began her private practice focusing on matrimonial and family law. From 1999 to 2001, Wojtaszek-Gariano served as assistant county attorney specializing in prosecuting persons in need of supervision and juvenile delinquents in Family Court.

She also served on the law guardian panel from 1994 to 2001, representing children in custody and neglect and abuse cases.

A set of unusual circumstances led to Wojtaszek-Gariano to her two judicial appointments in 2001. After Judge John Mariano retired from City Court here, former mayor Irene Elia appointed her to that bench. Shortly before running against, and ultimately losing to, Bobby Restaino in that year's general election, Family Court Judge Paul Crapsi died unexpectedly, and she was loaned out by the city to fill that spot after her appointment by Judicial District Administrative Judge Vincent Doyle.

She served on both benches with distinction. Later, when Elia offered her another appointment on the City Court bench, she turned it down, privately telling friends she'd had enough of the political infighting Niagara Falls is famous for.

Ultimately, former Gov. George Pataki appointed Judge Seaman for the bench and Wojtaszek-Gariano accepted the position as his court attorney and law clerk.

"For the last 9 years, I've had the honor of working for Judge Seaman as his law clerk. During that time, I've witnessed firsthand how his firm, fair and compassionate approach has had a lasting effect on families and brought positive results," Wojtaszek-Gariano said.

"I'm running for Family Court because I have the courtroom experience and passion to continue making a difference for Niagara County families."

Niagara County Family Court handles most county cases involving families and children.

These types of cases include orders of protection from domestic violence, child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, adoption, paternity, child neglect and abuse, juvenile delinquency, termination of parental rights and the review of foster care placement.

"One of my most rewarding experiences was when someone recognized me as the Judge who did their child's adoption and they introduced me to the child they adopted in my court," said Wojtaszek-Gariano. "I can't think of a more rewarding moment for a judge than watching the joy of a family as they finalize the adoption of their child."

She's clearly got a passion for her work.

"At times, Family Court can be an unhappy place.

"But instead of being strictly punitive, a good family court judge can often change lives by offering guidance or protection before it is too late.

"In Family Court, we have the ability to give a second chance to those who may have made mistakes with their lives. I have the experience to make a difference for families in Niagara County and that's why I am running for Family Court Judge."

A graduate of North Tonawanda High School, University at Buffalo, and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Wojtaszek-Gariano has over 16 years of experience in family law, including the last nine serving as Family Court attorney and law clerk for Judge Seaman.

Ms. Wojtaszek-Gariano lives in Niagara Falls with her husband, Tom Gariano, and has three children: Rob (married to Nicole), Francesca and David, and one grandchild, Brooklyn. She's also the sister of county Legislator Paul Wojtaszek and former county Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, who will be appointed shortly as legal counsel to the state's Off Track Betting Board.

The rise of the Wojtaszek clan as a political juggernaut on the Niagara Frontier over the past decade has been interesting to watch. They're young, smart, good-looking and savvy enough to know that even a political defeat can be turned to advantage by raising a candidate's profile and providing a an opportunity to network. Henry Wojtaszek has run unsuccessfully for Congress and state Republican Chairman, candidacies that raised his profile considerably and contributed toward his new appointment.

And since Rep. Chris Lee's abrupt departure from the United States Congress last week, when many political wags are predicting state Sen. George Maziarz might be the man to fill that seat, Wojtaszek was mentioned as a replacement for the 62nd Senate seat Maziarz has held since 1995.

Paul Wojtaszek ran a surprisingly strong campaign in November for state Supreme Court judge, and will clearly be a player on the Niagara Frontier political scene for years to come.

Kathy Wojtaszek-Gariano has been there and done that. She's ready for a win and, when she gets it, remember you heard it here first.

She's more than qualified for the position, both emotionally and intellectually. She was seemingly born for it. It will be comical to see what stumble bum of the month Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman Dan Rivera dredges up to run against her.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Feb. 15, 2011