Months before the onset of winter, the Office of Court Administration has sent into hibernation a 7-foot-tall stuffed bear that briefly made the lobby of the Sullivan County Courthouse in Monticello its lair.
“My position was it takes away from the decorum of the facility,” Judge Michael V. Coccoma, the deputy chief administrator for courts outside of New York City, said in an interview yesterday. “It’s not that I have anything against taxidermy. But given the seriousness of the business we do in our courts, I felt it was a distraction.”
The bear now prowls the private chambers of Acting Supreme Court Justice Frank LaBuda (See Profile), who says it is “beautiful” and “magnificent.”
Judge Coccoma said he learned about the bear from a local newspaper reporter in Sullivan County and, upon further inquiry, decided the 490-pound display—complete with fake beehive—had to go. The story was first reported in the Middletown Times Herald-Record.
From right: Justice Frank LaBuda, bow hunter David Purdy and “Smokey.”
Sullivan County court officials were “very cooperative” once he directed them to find new lodgings for the bear, according to Judge Coccoma.
Justice LaBuda said that earlier this week county workers removed the bear from its pedestal so that they could wrestle it through the 36-inch-wide, 8 1/2-foot tall doorway of his chambers.
Judge Coccoma said judges are free to decorate their chambers, which are not public spaces, as they wish.
The bear was killed in October 2006 with a bow by local hunter David Purdy in nearby White Lake. Mr. Purdy asked Justice LaBuda in August if the judge had room for the creature, one of the largest ever taken in the county, in his home.
The judge said he did not, but the bear might find quarters, at least temporarily, in the courthouse where it could serve as a tribute to the area’s ecology and love for hunting. By Sept. 2, it was stationed near the post of court officers who quickly dubbed it “Smokey.”
“People want to see the bear,” Justice LaBuda said. “Actually, it is a tribute to conservation in our state. As you know, black bears were almost extinct in the state except in the Adirondacks. Now, they are actually so plentiful that some people think they are a nuisance here.”
Justice LaBuda, who said he has the head of a bear he bagged himself in Maine on display in his home, observed he was not looking to make an issue over administrators’ ruling.
“I am not criticizing anybody,” he said. “I follow orders. I do not want to offend OCA. I am too busy with everything else I have to deal with to worry about that.”
Meanwhile, he said that one Sullivan County legislator, who was apparently not worried about Smokey’s distracting qualities, inquired yesterday about whether the bear could be displayed in legislative office space.
@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted at email@example.com.