Former Wilna town justice pleads guilty

Richard A. Buckingham in 2019. Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — A few weeks before his case was scheduled for trial, the former Wilna town justice who shot a deer from his truck near a house in Denmark accepted a plea deal in Martinsburg Town Court.

Richard A. Buckingham, 67, of Carthage, pleaded guilty on Oct. 28 to three counts of failure to obey a conservation order, a violation, under state Environmental Conservation Law.

Mr. Buckingham was required to pay $775 in fines and court surcharges. It was unclear in court documents whether he was allowed to keep his hunting license.

Originally, Mr. Buckingham was charged with three misdemeanors: discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, discharging a firearm over a public highway and taking big game in excess of the bag limit.

Arresting DEC Officer Ryan Wing and Mr. Buckingham agreed on the basic details of the incident.

At 10:20 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2019, Mr. Buckingham killed an 8-point deer within 182-feet of Brian Hardy’s house, 10305 Vorce Road, while sitting in his vehicle.

He shot the deer with his Thompson Center 300 rifle over the roadway, and he had already killed a deer for the hunting season.

In Mr. Buckingham’s account, he claimed the deer was wounded and “struggling to cross the road.”

Officer Wing included in the details of his report that Mr. Buckingham said he shot from his vehicle because he had a non-ambulatory permit but said he didn’t know that he had to be off maintained roadways to use it.

Mr. Buckingham informed Officer Wing that he was the Wilna town justice and “well versed in the law.”

In various court filings, Mr. Buckingham acknowledged killing the deer but insisted that he had “no criminal intent,” instead claiming he thought he was doing the right thing by putting the deer out of its misery.

He refused a Civil Compromise offered by the DEC citing again his lack of criminal intent, according to court documents, while refusing to accept having his hunting rights taken away.

Three judges recused themselves from hearing the case because of conflicts of interest causing significant delays. Judge Lacey Northrup presided.

Judge Kevin McCardle in Martinsburg Town Court, who was replaced by Judge Northrup in October 2020, accepted the case in February 2020. The state Fifth Judicial District deemed the case “essential” so that it could proceed virtually despite general court closures due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time.

A virtual arraignment took place on May 13, 2020, after which Mr. Buckingham represented himself in several court appearances. He submitted a motion to dismiss the case on Sept. 22, 2020, which was denied.

Counsel from the Lewis County Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent Mr. Buckingham, and a trial had been scheduled to begin Nov. 15.

Mr. Buckingham, who had been Wilna’s justice since 2004, lost his 2020 reelection bid and did not accept the offer to remain in office when the winner of the election, James H. Brotherton, could not accept the position. Faith L. Parks was unanimously appointed by the Wilna Town Board in November 2020 to fill the justice position.

Mr. Buckingham had also been the head of the Jefferson County Magistrates Association.

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