Saturday, July 28, 2012

Keith Wright's Secret Screening Panels

Note: The following was written before the 18 June 2012 N.Y. County Democrats judiciary committee meeting where the committee voted to make the screening panelists names public at the time they begin their work. It's worth reading. As the dean of the screening panel process attorney Stanley Geller says, “The panelists' names are public; their work is confidential.” Judiciary committee co-chair District Leader Louise Dankberg said that making the names public at the outset provides transparency of the process. The County's Supreme Court screening panel has convened and is working since July, but Keith Wright still refuses to make the names of the panelists public.


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 N.Y.C. Councilmember and former chair of the New Democratic Coalition's Manhattan Judiciary Committee Jane Trichter says "Keith Wright is destroying our legacy."

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; Sen. Schumer's screening panel 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.


Now is the winter of our fiscal discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of Mario;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our Senate
In the deep bosom of the Catskills buried.

Tele.: (212) 840+12.34


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