Saturday, October 29, 2011

The 2011 Manh. Judicial Nominating Convention & Electing Judges the Old-fashioned Way


By Alan Flacks (212) 840-1234

The 2011 First Judicial District (Manh.) State Supreme Court judicial nominating convention was held Sept. 21st. There were five vacancies to be filled: three “open” seats and two held by incumbents who were seeking re-election and were not opposed. The incumbents are Laura Visitacion-Lewis and Joan Madden. A screening panel, used since 1977, found the following nine applicants--in no particular order--as the most highly qualified of those who applied: Arthur Engoron, Barbara Jaffe, Rita Mella, Peter Moulton, Ruth Pickholtz, George Silver, Anil Singh, Shlomo Hagler, and Analisa Torres. Additionally, there were four carry-over candidates created by a recent Party rule change (called “2/4”; that is, reported as most highly qualified by two prior panels in the last four consecutive years). They are: Saliann Scarpulla, Deborah Kaplan, Ellen Gesmer, and Manny Mendez.

At the convention, there was a "dog-and-pony" show. All candidates were nominated, received nominating and seconding speeches, spoke and then withdrew from consideration except for those candidates who garnered enough delegate votes after a pre-convention week of furious "speed-dating" of politicking, calls, and receptions. (At a future date, ample explanation of this and of the maneuvering, machinations, predictions, palavering, and a cast of characters to be provided.)

The eventual nominees in addition to the incumbents Joan Madden and Laura Visitacion-Lewis are: Analisa Torres, Deborah Kaplan, and Ellen Gesmer. These five shall be on your November 8th General election ballot for the Democratic Party.

Once again, County Leader Keith Wright was not a "player" as Ellen Gesmer steam-rolled through based upon her own supporters, Deborah Kaplan made it backed by District Leader Louise Dankberg and her cohorts, while Analisa Torres trumped Manuel Mendez. And Sheldon Silver's fave Shlomo Hagler couldn't put together enough delegate support.


Lombardi On Electing Manhattan Judges The Old-Fashioned Way: Before Election Day

BY Celeste Katz, N.Y. Daily News, 27 October 2011

No need to count the votes that will be cast in the upcoming Nov. 8 general election in Manhattan. The results are already in.

Our incisive Frank Lombardi reports in this week's Uptown News column (27 Oct. 11):

In this off-year for most public-office elections, there are only 14 judicial seats to be filled in Manhattan. There's just 14 names on the ballot; all unoppposed. In effect, they've been pre-elected. Voters who show up to cast ballots in the no-choice election will be mere rubber stamps. Four candidates are from northern Manhattan, but uptown voters - and in the rest of the borough (and in most of the city) - will find their choices were made for them by Democratic leaders and clubhouse loyalists. There's a million registered voters in Manhattan, and 69% are Democrats. So the party's judicial nominees invariably win.

Other parties rarely bother to nominate rival candidates. This year, Manhattan Republicans cross-nominated three of the Democrats. Some choice, uh? Of the 14, five (including two incumbents) are running borough-wide for 14-year terms on the state Supreme Court. That's a trial-level court that handles major civil cases and felony crimes.

The nine other candidates (including four incumbents) are running for 10-year terms on the Civil Court, which handles civil cases worth less than $25,000 and misdemeanor criminal cases. Two are to be "elected" county-wide, the others by voters in their respective court districts (so ballots will vary).

Of the 14, only one Civil Court candidate was nominated by winning a contested Democratic primary (Tony Cannataro, running in the Chelsea district). The others were nominated through procedures scripted, staged, choreographed and directed by Manhattan Democratic chieftain Keith Wright of Harlem and his assorted party officers, district leaders and judicial delegates.

Supreme Court candidates aren't subject to primaries, so those five were actually elected the moment they received the Democratic nominations at the party's Sept. 21 judicial convention. The unanimous nominations came after weeks, if not months, of behind-the-scene politicking, dickering and deal-making among Democratic leaders and club stalwarts.

It sounds almost illegal, but the clubhouse way of picking state Supreme Court justices was declared Constitutional by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008. Defenders will say it's representative democracy by well-informed party activists, but the U.S. Supreme court acknowledged the state can "determine it is not desirable and replace it." No move is afoot in Albany, the elephant graveyard of reform. Judicial hopefuls - both those who get nominated and those bypassed - devote a good deal of time and money courting clubhouse support. Judicial campaign rules allow them to buy tickets to political events, during prescribed periods.

Here's just a few of the typical political pit stops by one nominated Supreme Court candidate from March 3 to July 11: $175, lower East Side Democrats; $400, Community Free Democrats; $500, New York County Democratic Committee (headed by Wright, a Harlem assemblyman and district leader); $400, Ansonia Independent Democrats; $100, Barack Obama Democratic Club; $150, Village Independent Democrats; $100, Fred E. Samuel Democratic Club (Wright's club); $100, West Harlem Independent Democrats; $100, Friends of Bill Perkins, and so on and so on.

They're not big amounts but, year after year, they add up. This particular candidate spent $7,455 for tickets during that period, and $4,760 the prior year. Multiply that by a dozen or so would-be Supreme Court justices each year, and an equal or higher number of Civil Court seekers, and you have what a court expert calls "a movable feast" for the clubhouse pols.

Defenders of the Manhattan way will also say they only nominate qualified candidates who pass muster with their screening committees, whose members are named by various bar associations and civic groups. But it's the clubhouse system that ultimately decides who is nominated. The more-rigorous screening system set up through the state's unified court system is voluntary and often ignored by candidates. Judges seem destined to be elected the old-fashioned way: before Election Day.
-- 30 --
Now is the winter of our fiscal discontent
made glorious summer by this sun of Mario.


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