Boro’s state judge seletion ruled unconstitutional

By Zach Patberg

The decision, which was handed down Friday by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn and applies only to State Supreme Court nominees, ordered the current system to dissolve immediately. The lawsuit was brought against the state Board of Elections by the Common Cause citizens group, a judicial candidate from Brooklyn who could not get party backing and eight voters. The court decision invalidated the practice of holding conventions controlled by political party leaders to select judicial nominees.Although likely to be appealed by the Board of Elections, the ruling was a preliminary victory for many who viewed the conventions as a way for party bosses to eclipse voter say and handpick candidates for the bench based more on their patronage than their qualifications.City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, who in November lambasted the Queens Democratic Organization for dominating the choices for the court, said the ruling “has brought an immediate halt to at least some of the abuses in the judicial convention system of electing judges.” He also said the decision further emphasizes the need for state lawmakers “to draft legislation that will bring an end to the back room control” of the judiciary.Queens judgeships have historically been beholden to the Democratic leadership, which has brought victory to every judicial candidate running on its party line since 1990.But those borough leaders see last week's court decision as a detriment to the process that could lead to the money obsession and politicking often incorporated in campaigns for primary elections, which the court ordered to be used until Albany “enacts another electoral scheme.””The negative force I can see is the very expensive primaries,” said Michael Reich, executive secretary for the Queens Democratic Organization. “They will exclude minorities, which is something we've desperately tried to increase, making the bench look whiter and more male.”Such fund-raising and stumping, he and others say, have no place in judicial races where candidates are running for an office that is supposed to be void of partisan slants and potential conflicts of interest.”Can you imagine someone sitting in judgment of a person who contributed thousands to his election?” asked Rudy Greco, a Democratic district leader in Jackson Heights.Greco added that the thousands of signatures and dollars required for primary races will cause candidates to be just as dependent on the party as they are now. Instead, he suggested that reform should focus on improving the candidate screening process and raising voter awareness. “The parties now are just filling the vacuums the public leaves,” he said. Reich called the decision a “knee-jerk reaction” imposed on the state for problems specific to Brooklyn, where accusations of bribery and corruption initially brought the judicial process under scrutiny.But some Republicans considered a shift to primaries a potential benefit for a party that often fails to even push a judicial candidate into pubic view.”It will still be an uphill battle,” said Mary Anderson, former president of the Bayside Republican Club. “But at least with the voters we'd have a stronger voice.”Reach reporter Zach Patberg at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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