Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why Vote "No Endorsement" for Judges (in N.Y. County)

By Alan Flacks - (212) 840+12.34

There is good reason to vote a "no endorsement" (with one exception, q.v., infra*) for N.Y. County Civil Court judges.

In 1977, the New York County Democratic party incorporated a screening panel for judges in its rules. These were to be--and were--open panels. The names of the panelists were made public before they began their interviews. In fact, at one time the New York Law Journal also published the names of the panelists.

Under County Leaders Miriam Bockman and Herman Denny Farrell (1977 to 2009) the panelists’ names were public at the outset of their work. Indeed, Farrell's co-law chair Arthur Grieg stated at the March, 2012, County District Leader meeting that he gave the panelists names to all applicants. "Candidates have an absolute right to know the names of panel members reviewing their applications and which group designated them. I always gave the list to any candidate who requested the list. . . I found that candidates having the names of panel members aided the process by identifying possible issues of bias, conflict with a panel member. . . . "

With the advent of Keith Wright as county leader, the panelists names are kept secret, and he has been chastised thrice for doing that in Daily News editorials.

Former panelist and panel administrator attorney Steven De Castro wrote in part: "It is absolutely right that the panelists have a duty to protect themselves from outside influence, but that is not related to the issue of whether the panelists' names are released. . . The complaint of potential conflicts of interest commonly arises every year, but I don't see how this problem can ever be addressed if the panelists' names are kept secret. . . ."

Secrecy from the public causes the appearance of impropriety said former Lexington Dems Club State Committeeman Bud Plautz. And former Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman said: "I was the first panel administrator under reform rules when Miriam Bockman became County Leader. No-one ever said they were secret or treated them that way; in fact, every panelist was introduced to every applicant by name and organization whose leader sent them." Indeed, attorney Stanley Geller, who started the panel screening (initially called "The Geller Panels") said "The panelist names are public; their work is confidential."

Secret Keith Wright Panels. Yet here are the current myriad open panels where all the panelists' names are made public before they interview candidates:
The Governor's four Appellate Division screening panels; the State Constitution's Court of Appeals screening panel; the Mayor's Committee on the Judiciary [for Family, Criminal, & interim Civil courts]; the Office of Court Administration's thirteen judicial qualification panels; the Schumer/Gillibrand screening panels for the Federal judiciary; AND--lo! [after Clarence Norman went to prison for selling judgeships]--the Kings County "Regular" Dems screening panel is public. BUT NOT KEITH WRIGHT's, who has secret screening panels after years of open panels under Bockman and Farrell (1977 to 2009)! This is a serious attack on the whole screening panel system and an attempt to go back to the Tammany Hall DeSapio days.

Vote “no endorsement.” A note as to the calibre of the applicants. Three factors obtain. However flawed the panel, the panelists--as do most jurors--rise to the occasion. Second, the lawyers in New York County who are seeking judgeships are generally a cut-above average. And third, most importantly, many of these applicants have applied in years past and were vetted by proper panels.
*The exception: Anil Singh, running for re-election, because he was vetted a decade ago by a proper panel, and should be endorsed, especially in view of his accomplished record over these past years as a designated ("acting") Supreme Court Justice.


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