Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judicial Convention Addendum

I'd appreciate it if you could please circulate this correction to the story from Judicial Reports that you sent out -- /s/Jerry Skurnik, Prime New York, (212) 587-8080.
[Jerry Skurnik is an adviser to the Gische campaign.]


"Judge Judith Gische did not raise any money to run for Supreme Court this year, but completely self funded the election.

"According to Campaign finance rules, every year that a judge runs for judicial office is considered a separate election, so that any funds raised in one year cannot be used in any other year but the one they are raised for.

"In 2003, Judge Gische ran for re-election to Civil Court and Supreme Court. A campaign committee was formed and raised funds. The monies judicial reports is referring to go back to that time. The campaign treasurer disbursed monies for 2003 campaign expenses only and the surplus monies raised were returned pro rata to the contributors. He then closed out that campaign with a zero balance and filed the necessary closing documents.

"In every year after 2003 that she have run for Supreme Court, Judge Gische have paid all expenses from personal funds. The expenses made have been reported in accordance with the law."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Floor Fight" The 2008 Manhattan Judicial Convention (iii)

By Jason Boog,, 09-21-2008

A combination of kabuki theater and the wisdom of (informed) crowds was on display at Manhattan's judicial convention last week. A fly on the wall reports.
More than 150 Democrats gathered at the Ansche Chesed Temple on the Upper West Side Thursday evening. There, in a packed basement auditorium, they anointed four candidates to fill coveted State Supreme Court seats.

The rowdy event seemed like a cross between a City Hall meeting, a high school play, and a circus. Old-time political operatives, fresh-faced politicians, and incumbent judges (seemingly naked in civilian clothes) all mingled during the course of the three-hour proceeding.

It was the climax of a clubhouse-centered race that had seen 10 candidates strive for months to woo more than 100 judicial delegates. The party’s endorsement, of course, virtually guarantees election victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic Borough.

Unlike the Brooklyn judicial convention — a quick, quiet, and completely scripted event that was held earlier in the week — the more than 120 Manhattan delegates carried on cheery conversations during the whole ceremony. At times, the chatter from enthusiastic party members threatened to overwhelm the chairman’s attempts to complete dull roll calls and procedural motions.

Like secret agents, political consultants and amateur analysts weaved through the throng of delegates, trying to discern the evening’s big question: Would Acting Supreme Court Judge Judith J. Gische or her rival Acting Supreme Court Justice Lucy Adams Billings win the day?

In all, four judges received the party’s blessing to serve as Supreme Court Justices for 14 years.

Billings wore a purple suit jacket, a black skirt and a big button that read: “I LOVE LUCY” framed inside a giant heart. The button was a popular fashion accessory among the jurist’s many supporters at the convention.

Gische, on the other hand, wore a conservative grey jacket with a black skirt, and her only campaign material was a plain sheet of white paper that listed the politicians who endorsed her.

Following party tradition, three Supreme Court incumbents were automatically granted the party’s endorsement: Marcy L. Kahn, Shirley Kornreich, and Martin Schoenfeld. Dressed in a dapper black suit, Schoenfeld gave a passionate defense of the closed and clubby convention system that the U.S. Supreme Court disparaged, but deemed Constitutional, earlier this year.

“I want to thank the attorneys who worked on the Lopez Torres case,” said Schoenfeld. “They convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that our system does work.”

The audience cheered at his dig against the landmark litigation that would have overturned judicial conventions,. “Of course, it’s not a perfect system,” he concluded. [But] you are a valid cross-section of Manhattan.”

Once the incumbents were re-affirmed, five unsuccessful delegates carried out an equally ceremonial task of declining their nominations to the Supreme Court. The five jurists did not manage to secure enough delegate support to justify a floor vote, but each made a one-minute speech alluding to future bids for the court.

Those unsuccessful candidates were: Acting Supreme Court Justices Debra A. James, Ellen Gesmer, and Laura E. Drager; as well as Civil Court Judges Saliann Scarpulla and Cynthia Kern.

As Civil Court Judge Cynthia Kern declined her nomination, she applauded the group of more than 120 delegates. “You actually had an opportunity to meet every candidate,” she said. “You are one of the most informed electorates that we have for the selection of judges.”

Once all the unsuccessful candidates declined, all eyes turned to Billings and Gische for the only unscripted part of the convention.

“My name is Desi Arnez, and I love Lucy!” yelled Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat as he endorsed Justice Billings at the convention podium. The crowd roared at his reference to television comedian Lucille Ball — a whimsical, if strange, judicial role model.

Once her name was officially entered, another politician rose for Gische.

“Justice Gische handled two major cases,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright from the podium, endorsing the judge for her work on two celebrity divorces. “The divorce of Rudolph Giuliani and [Sopranos actor] James Gandolfini. She can mess with Tony Soprano and the former and hopefully never-to-be-again mayor of New York!”

Once again, huge cheers.

During the rapid-fire oral vote for the two candidates, the crowd kept track of the delegate score on homemade scorecards, whispering numbers like seasoned gamblers. In the end, the count was 65 votes for Gische, 61 votes for Billings and one stray vote for Civil Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla. Both Gische and Billings ascended the platform, delivering their final remarks.

Afterwards, two political consultants assessed rumors about

Prime New York consultant Jerry Skurnick weighed in on rumors that a few Billings delegates didn’t show up for the floor count. “I did hear that there were two or three Billings delegates who didn’t show up. I’m not sure if there were more than two or three, I wasn’t involved in the counting process,” he explained.

He demurred to explain what that meant, saying that some delegates are always missing at the convention.

Ernest Lendler, a consultant who specializes in Brooklyn and Bronx races, noted that Manhattan always has more interesting conventions. “There’s a lot more politicking for delegates in Manhattan than there is anywhere else,” he said, alluding to the borough where the party chairman has traditionally wielded the ultimate authority over judicial delegates.

“There is a much less loose structure, people actually go among the clubs and campaign for votes.”

In terms of campaign cash, Gische won the money race by thousands of dollars. According to the state Board of Elections, Justice Gische raised $61,800 for her Supreme Court bid, in 2004 she raised nearly $4,000, and finally, in 2007, she raised $4,300. She had no record on file for 2008.

In 2007, Billings raised $14,200 for her Supreme Court bid. She didn’t file any records with the Board of Elections this year.
At the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Benjamin reported that a number of anonymous readers had chimed in with various theories about why Billings lost.

Despite these minor controversies, this is a familiar convention narrative for judges in Manhattan. Last year at this time, Judicial Reports published an article about the Manhattan judicial convention. In that race, Paul Feinman won the nomination, leaving Gische in the cold. Billings participated as well, but couldn’t muster enough votes to justify a floor vote.

One year later, both candidates had increased their political base substantially, and Gische’s long campaign was finally rewarded.

With that in mind, Billings should be a likely choice next year. Her concession speech left open the possibility of a run next year, and her solid delegate support (buttons and TV jokes included) won’t evaporate.

Just like Gische, who has been raising money for her Supreme Court bid since 2003, she can keep knocking until the party leaders open the door.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Flacks's Letter to the Daily News on the Brooklyn Judicial Convention

Such a Fine Felon
For a glimpse into the odious nature of how the political bosses make judges in New York, we direct your attention to a letter in Friday's Voice of the People by veteran court watcher Alan Flacks.
On Tuesday, Flacks dropped in on the Brooklyn Democratic Party's ceremony for elevating faithful lawyers to the bench. The party calls it a convention. It's not. It's a charade, currently directed by boss Vito Lopez.
Among those who came up through this system is Supreme Court Justice John Leventhal, who was recently promoted to the Appellate Division and is a jurist of fine repute. He's up for a new 14-year term, and Lopez was good enough to give Leventhal the nod.
For which Leventhal, poor guy, genuflected to his patrons.
After asking whether the press was there and discovering that it was not, Leventhal expressed gratitude to a man who made him: former boss Clarence Norman, who was otherwise engaged in that he's doing three to nine in the Oneida penitentiary for grand larceny and coercion of judicial candidates.
Interviewed Thursday about his remarks, Leventhal said he merely thanked all the party leaders who had supported him through the years, including Norman. Ugh.
Similarly unseemly was the role played at the convention by Jeff Feldman, a one-time party honcho who was indicted with Norman but won dismissal of charges. No longer exiled from the convention, Feldman helped run Tuesday's show.
And wouldn't you know? The bosses gave a thumbs-up to a new term in Brooklyn Supreme Court to Justice Marsha Steinhardt. Feldman's wife.
Surprise, surprise.


Sausage factory floor

Manhattan: I attended the Kings County Democratic judicial nominating convention Tuesday. It was orchestrated "Soviet-style." Short, sweet, lady- and gentleman-like, the script called for the eight candidates to be designated or redesignated without opposition, even for supposed "open" seats. Before adjournment, each judge candidate got up and gave a short thank-you speech. Every one of them expressed gratitude to the party district leaders for their support, and they also expressed effusive thanks to and praise of County Leader Vito Lopez (photo). One "re-up," John Leventhal of the Appellate Division, Second Department (after inquiring if the press was present) thanked now-imprisoned county leader Clarence Norman as well, and another called Lopez "the greatest county leader ever." After adjournment, I spoke with a number of delegates who voted "automatically" and didn't seem to know for whom they were voting. They didn't know, and were just told for whom to vote.

Alan Flacks

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, 19 September 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Judicial Contretemps

We have some interesting political correspondence to share with you. But first, your correspondent attended the Kings County Democratic judicial nominating convention held at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights this past Tuesday evening. [The newly-created Richmond County (Staten Island) judicial district convention was held at the same time in an adjacent room, and finished in even shorter order.] It was orchestrated "Soviet-style." Short, sweet, lady and gentleman like, the script called for the eight candidates to be designated or re-designated without opposition, even for supposed "open" seats. Amazing. Well, maybe, not so amazing, and certainly not like the First District (New York County) conventions, where there is a lot of pre-convention "palavering" and horse-trading ["This epoch of parliaments and eloquent palavers"--Carlyle.] via telephone in lining up support for candidates, who are panel-screened.

Before adjournment, each judge candidate got up and gave a short thank-you speech. Everyone of them expressed gratitude to the party district leaders (that's why this is a run-up, as the Brits say, to the letter which follows) for their support, and they also expressed effusive thanks to and praise of County Leader and Assembly Member Vito Lopez, with one calling Lopez "the greatest County Leader ever." After adjournment, I spoke with a number of delegates on the floor because they voted "automatically" and didn't seem to know for whom they were voting. They didn't know, and were just told for whom to vote. In addition, no-one seemed to know (except older delegates) who Amadeo Henry Esposito was. Now, there was nothing Aristotle could teach Meade about politics!

Now, read on!

"Dear Fellow District Leaders,

I am very distressed about some of this year's campaigning for the Democratic Party Supreme Court Judicial Nomination to take place at our Convention on September 18th. We fought long and hard to save the integrity of our "open" and independent selection process. Our attorneys spent countless hours and energy to attain the great results at the U.S. Supreme Court when attempts were made to strike down the Judicial Convention system that we in the reform part of the Party have attained.

My first distress is the letter sent by a District Leader [Cynthia Doty, q.v. attachments in BMP -- ed.] listing District Leader support for one of the candidates [Billings -- ed.] I think that support of party and public elected officials is great for a candidate but should not be the "be all and end all." In my part of the 74th Assembly District, District Leaders are not judicial delegates. We pride ourselves in being reformers. The letter implies that District Leaders pick the nominee - I hope this is not so. If it was done that way, then why would the voters elect Judicial Delegates and Alternates at the Primary? The Democratic Party voters elect these people to render their opinions and give their votes without repercussions by District Leaders. Moreover, I know that some of the District Leaders named in the letter did not, in fact, endorse this candidate.

We and our convention system won at the U.S. Supreme Court because N.Y. County demonstrated the worthiness and correctness of our independent process and because Delegates are not rubber stamps to Leaders' wishes.

I am also very concerned in reading the e-mail from another District Leader [Greg Soumas, vide infra --ed.] who was told he had endorsed the same candidate. In fact, he did not and stated that he will not endorse this candidate.

I have also been called and courted incessantly by the same candidate when she knows first-hand that I am not supporting her nor telling my delegates what to do. I am a very direct person which is no secret to anyone. Other District Leaders and Delegates have told me that [they] might support her only because of her constant calls and badgering.

A candidate is ultimately responsible for everything in his/her campaign. Please take my concerns very seriously as we enter the convention next week. We should have great respect for our county's system.

By this e-mail I am not saying that this candidate is not competent or qualified for advancement. I am saying that her method of seeking that position is not in keeping with the hard fought reforms we Democrats believe in.Louise Dankberg
Democratic District Leader
74th A.D., Part C
Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club
Tel. 212 475 5347
Fax. 212 475 5347"

"Ladies and Gentlemen,
"Last night I was approached by several people who had been told that I had endorsed Lucy Billings in support of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for Supreme Court. As such talk is pure hearsay I will not address it except as follows: "I have not endorsed Lucy Billings and I will not be endorsing Lucy Billings in support of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for Supreme Court. "I will be focussing all of my attention and efforts on operations in support of the Board of Elections and the Tuesday Primary Election. As always I stand ready, willing, and able to assist on any election issue."Regards to all, s/Gregory Soumas"

Judicial Convention Picks Gische and . . .

[September 2008]

Katz Gets final Endorsement---69th A.D. State Committee Final---Landis Not running---Judicial Convention Picks Gische


Katz Garners C.F.D. Endorsement

Michael L. Katz, running County-wide in Manhattan for a Civil Court seat against Nancy Bannon, gained the last club endorsement before the Primary election. At Community Free Democrats, Inc., the vote was 29 for Katz, 13 for Bannon, and 2 No Endorsement.


69th A.D. State Committee Final

All sides (Hirsch campaign, Ginsberg campaign, Board of Elections) agree that Larry Hirsch won the official voting machine count by a margin of 107 votes, 2784 to 2677. After about 250 paper and BMD machine votes were counted, Hirsch was about 60 votes ahead of Bob Ginsberg. The official tally should be certified at next Tuesday's Commissioners' meeting.

Landis Not Running

West Side D.L. Marc Landis has decided not to seek the N.Y.C. City Council seat to be vacated by Gail Brewer when her term is up.


Judicial Convention Picks Gische

N.Y.C. Civil Court Judge Judith Gische was chosen last night (18 Sept. '08) at the Democratic Party's First Judicial District (Manhattan) nominating convention to be one of the four Party nominees for Justice of the State Supreme Court on the November 2008 General Election ballot. The Democratic nomination is tantamount to election in Manhattan.
Gische defeated Civil Court Judge Lucy Billings by a 65-to-61 vote. There was also one vote cast for Saliann Scarpulla. Scarpulla along with Laura Drager, Debra James, Ellen Gesmer, and Cynthia Kern--all lower court judges--were also nominated for the vacancy created by Justice Louis York's reaching the mandatory retirement age, but then, lacking sufficient delegate support, they withdrew their candidacies leaving the contest to Billings and Gische.
Incumbent Justices Marcy Kahn, Shirley Werner Kornrerich, and Martin Schoenfeld were unopposed in seeking the Party's designation, and will also appear on the November ballot.

"Ne dites pas 'Après moi, le déluge!';
mais 'pendant mon regne, le déluge est déjà arrivé.'" ---Geo. W. Bush

This riposte (see below) to D.L. Dankberg's missive was only recently received. I was not aware of it, and a number of you kindly brought it to my attention. For balance, it is printed here. /s/Alan Flacks

"Dear Louise,First off, congratulations on your recent victory for Nancy Bannon.While I was saddened to learn that Michael Katz who I had supportedviogorously did not succeed; nonetheless, you should be commended forsticking to your guns and succeeding in a tough fought race.I understand your concern about judicial candidates sending outletters with district leaders listed as support for certain judicialcandidates, or confusion whether certain district leaders endorsed ordid not endorse a certain judicial candidate. But, Louise, correctme if I am wrong, this practice has gone on for quite some timeand should not be blamed on this year's candidates.Candidates for all offices whether it be City Council or Supreme Courttarget district leaders, Dem. club members, county committee members,judicial delegates, etc. in trying to obtain support. They make phonecall after phone call, corner you at a political fundraiser and oftenit is annoying and perhaps harrasing. But Louise, if I recall yousupported an unnamed male candidate for Supreme Court many years agowho also sent letters listing every district leader and electedofficial supporting his candidacy, and this candidate also was quiteenergetic to say the least and quite aggressive and quite assertive inhis candidacy. And I don't blame such candidate for doing so. Butplease don't unfairly use one set of standards when a candidate yousupport uses it and get offended when a candidate you do not supportuses the same tactics.The bottom line is I don't think we can set guidelines for how judicialcandidates can campaign; that would be going against ourConstitutional right to free speech.Warm Regards,Adam SilveraDemocratic District Leader, Downtown Independent Democrats