2003 Race for Judge

New York Law Journal
November 4, 2003, Tuesday

Staten Island, Brooklyn To See Contested Races;
District Attorney, Supreme Court Battles May Hold Surprises


By Daniel Wise and Tom Perrotta

Court Contests
For the first time in a 100 years or better, the Democratic Party's candidates for Supreme Court judgeships will face serious challenges from a full slate of third-party contenders from the Working Families Party.
Though the Working Families Party still considers its odds to be long at best, it is hoping that recent scandals in the Brooklyn judiciary will push voters over to row "E" on today's ballot, where the party is fielding seven candidates for eight judgeships in the second district, which covers Brooklyn and Staten Island.
The latest boost to the party's chances has come in the form of supportive editorials from daily newspapers, including The New York Times and the Daily News. In those editorials and others, of course, kind words are generally accompanied by put downs of politics as usual in Brooklyn, where Supreme Court Justice Gerald P. Garson faces bribery charges and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes is investigating how the Democratic Party selects its judicial candidates.
"I think it's still a long shot, but long shots can still come in," said Dan Cantor, the Working Families Party's executive director. "I don't know if the habits people develop over a lifetime can change in a couple of weeks."
Leading the way for the party will be Margarita Lopez Torres, a sitting Civil Court judge in Brooklyn who has some experience in defeating the Democratic machine: In 2001, she and another insurgent beat two organization candidates in a primary. Judge Lopez Torres, who had been running for re-election, claims she lost the Democratic Party's backing when she refused to hire a law clerk referred by party leaders, a story that party leaders still contest.
"We're hoping she has coattails," Mr. Cantor said of Judge Lopez Torres. "She's very strong."
Mr. Cantor said increased support for City Council candidate Letitia James, who is challenging the brother of slain councilman James E. Davis, might help Judge Lopez Torres and perhaps trickle down to the remaining Working Families candidates: Alex Eisemann, a private attorney; Lyle Silversmith, a referee in Brooklyn Supreme Court; Robert Newman, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society; and Rosemary Palladino, an appellate attorney from Staten Island.
The party is also cross-endorsing two Democratic, incumbent Supreme Court justices: Theodore T. Jones and Herbert Kramer.
Even Democratic officials say the current climate in Brooklyn could offer the Working Families Party a chance to establish itself, even by winning only one seat on the Supreme Court bench.
"If they are able to do this then they have accomplished something very significant," said Robert Liff, a spokesman for the Democratic Party. "They understand that this is their best shot."
Still, Mr. Liff said the Democrats are confident they are not about to witness the sudden conversion of one of the party's most supportive communities.
"It's a difficult place that they have chosen to fight," he said. "They are climbing uphill. I think it is unlikely that anybody other than Margarita Lopez Torres will have a shot [today]."
Running along with the two cross-endorsed incumbents is another incumbent Democrat, Justice Michael L. Pesce, the former administrative judge in Brooklyn who sits on the Appellate Term, Second Department. The Democratic Party's other five candidates are sitting Civil Court judges: Arthur M. Schack, Bernadette F. Bayne, Bruce M. Balter, Martin M. Solomon and Raymond Guzman.

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