At the end of December, Rye City Court Judge Joe Latwin retired after 13 years of service to the City. Latwin would make the perfect dinner party guest–charming, insightful, direct, funny and full of stories.
Sitting with him in early December just weeks before his mandatory retirement at age 70, Latwin describes his court: “It is low volume, high weird. You can’t make some of this stuff up.”
The caseload at City Court is a mix of criminal and civil cases. On the criminal side, Latwin heard many DWIs and domestic violence cases. On the civil side he handled many cases around the disputed return of security deposits on rental properties as well as cases of customers dissatisfied with services rendered or local businesses such as landscapers were seeking payment.
“You learn all the dirt – it is not always pleasant,” said Latwin.
About five times each year, Latwin would see a familiar case–a Rye Playland outing with the husband, the wife, the kids–and the girlfriend. The wife and the girlfriend get into a fight, and the Westchester Police haul everyone into Court, often after hours. Latwin gets called in at night to arraign the case and you guessed it – all these happy folks would wind up in the County jail in Hawthorne – together.
Fairness, Efficiency and Customer Service
Latwin is clearly proud of the fairness, the efficiency and the customer service he has brought to the City Court over the years.
“They know they have been listened to and get a fair shake,” said Latwin. “The people that come here are our customers. They don’t want to be here – we have to process them,” explaining the clerks will assist those in the City Court as much as possible. “We want them to walk out of here with a just result.”
Latwin said professional criminals – those who have been in and out of the system – cause the least trouble in the courtroom. They know how to handle the system. The worst? People that come in to contest parking tickets.
Humor: 45 Minutes of Courtroom Standup Material
Latwin has about 45 minutes of short clean jokes he would use to work the courtroom. He explains as a judge there is a lot of downtime when corporation counsel is out in the hallway negotiating deals. Everyone else in attendance is sitting in the courtroom – looking at the judge.
“Did you hear about the new store on Purchase Street? It’s called Moderation. They have everything,” said Latwin while explaining his courtroom humor is a little bit more sophisticated than Dad jokes. “It’s worth the price of admission.”
Latwin grew up in Brooklyn. His father worked for the police department in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His mother was ahead of her time, he said. She ran the family general store in the 1940s in Connecticut when her two brothers were in the service. She was one of the only Jews in Darien. His exposure to the law was through a cousin who was a matrimonial lawyer in the 60s, 70s and 80s, working on celebrity cases including Tiny Tim and Donald Trump’s marital woes with Ivana and Marla.
Latwin and his wife Barbara moved to Rye in December 1980. He had worked in the AG’s office before joining a Park Avenue law firm. His wife worked as an accountant. They chose Rye because of its commuting distance to Manhattan and its proximity to his wife’s family in Connecticut. Their son is a naval aviator and a three-time Jeopardy champion. Their daughter is a lawyer who gave up practicing and now works in special education.
Asked what he does outside of work, Latwin is a self proclaimed turtle expert. Latwin has enjoyed turtles as pets for 60 years. He currently has three – a male turtle in his 90s (territorial and “useless on linoleum”), a male turtle in his 40s and a female turtle in her 30s.
In Rye he became involved in various local activities, including a run for Mayor in 1997. “I ran for Mayor – the best thing that ever happened to me is I lost,” Latwin recounted. Former Mayor Doug French had been his campaign treasurer. Fast forward to 2010, French was Mayor, and he appointed Latwin as City Court Judge in the wake of Peter Lane’s retirement. The rest, they say, is history.
The System, Public Service and the Future
Asked if the system works, Latwin says “it depends – there are good judges and not good judges” noting there were never any surprises in his courtroom, with his focus on always working to arrive at an efficient and just result. “The court [Rye City Court, his court] is really running well” said Latwin, and has a reputation for getting things done quickly. The court’s backlog is only four weeks versus a year on other courts. He treats the court staff like family and has hosted an annual BBQ at his house.
On public service, Latin says it is not for everyone. “People who tend to get involved tend to have agendas – that is the wrong thing,” he said. “You need to see how things work before you change them.”
Latwin is bullish on Judge Valerie Livingston, his replacement as the City Court’s new full time judge. As an Assistant District Attorney she had assigned herself to Rye, so knew the court, especially the criminal side. “It was kind of seamless to have her come in here.”
What’s next? Latwin reported his wife does not want him in the house. He wants to work but he says no commute, no nights and weekends, nothing too hard – and something that pays a lot of money. “I don’t have talent for a lot of things I could do,” quips Latwin.