John and Chris Strough entered the courtroom at Glens Falls City Hall at 9:04 a.m.
Strough was dressed in a blue blazer, pink shirt, striped tie and khaki pants while his wife sported a purple sweater, white pants and a smart-looking orange scarf.
They appeared lost and out of place and were easily the best-dressed defendants in court.
The Queensbury supervisor and his wife were given the courtesy of being first before the judge, following their lawyer E. Stewart Jones to the bench where they stood side-by-side hesitatingly answering the judge’s “yes” or “no” queries.
They stood accused of election fraud for improperly gathering signatures for their nominating petitions for the Conservative Party primary because Chris Strough, a licensed notary, often sat in the car while John Strough was getting signatures.
Bonnie and Clyde, they were not.
The couple agreed to accept a plea deal clearing John Strough of any wrongdoing after six months, with his wife Chris pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Her notary license was revoked for one year and she was fined $200, including another $120 in court costs.
She was given 30 days to pay the fine after the judge told her the court did not take personal checks. “Just credit cards and debit cards,” the judge said.
The judgment is not catastrophic. The Stroughs can no doubt afford the $320 fine and no one makes a living as a notary, although I suspect the legal fees were significant.
It was over in a matter of minutes, but not really.
I suspect the embarrassment of standing before a judge will stay with them for a long time. They won’t forget the experience, or the reason why they say they were there.
Finally, Judge Gary Hobbs summed up the plea deal by saying, “This case will be over today.”
Hobbs was wrong about that.
The Stroughs had every opportunity to escape City Hall before being approached for an interview, but they didn’t.
They had something to say and they were going to say it.
While Chris Strough said she would take responsibility for breaking the notary rules, her husband was blunter in his assessment of the charges against them.
“If I was a Republican, I wouldn’t be here today,” John Strough said. “If I had a spouse who worked in the Sheriff’s Department, I wouldn’t be here today.”
John Strough’s message was clear. The charges were politically motivated, pointing back to last November’s bitter election for supervisor against Republican Rachel Seeber.
“When I first ran for office, I never thought that I would face this type of pain,” John Strough said. “I didn’t deserve this.”
He lashed out at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for their involvement in politics and the charges against them. The Stroughs said the charges against them were petition shortcuts that most candidates do.
John Strough said that some of the local Republicans were trying to send a message, not only to him, but to the next Democrat intending to run for public office.
To think twice.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” John Strough said again. “How did it get to this point? All I ever wanted to do was the right thing.”
There was bitterness dripping in John Strough’s words.
Before last year’s election, John Strough said this would probably be his last term in office.
I asked him if anything changed.
“I’m leaving my options open,” John Strough said. “If the people want me to continue, I will continue.”
It sounded like a threat.