DEMS SET TO JUDGE 8 JUSTICES

Daily News

September 16, 2003

DEMS SET TO JUDGE 8 JUSTICES

By NANCIE L. KATZ

With its party leaders under criminal investigation, Brooklyn Democrats face heavy scrutiny today as they meet to pick eight candidates for state Supreme Court.
Whether those nominations have been up for sale is at the heart of District Attorney Charles Hynes' probe into the selection process. Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman and the party's executive director, Jeff Feldman, are the main targets of the investigation.
Party vets expect a stormy session among the 130 judicial convention delegates and alternates, whose vote will determine which candidates get placed on the November ballot. The nominations virtually guarantee victory in overwhelmingly Democratic Brooklyn.
Amid wheeling and dealing last week, the party's 42-member executive board tapped five civil court judges from 27 potential choices: Bruce Balter, Bernadette Bayne, Raymond Guzman, Arthur Schack and Martin Solomon. Incumbent Supreme Court Justices Michael Pesce, Theodore Jones and Herbert Kramer were endorsed without controversy.
"This is the result of political deal-making between district leaders, and not based on merit," said Alan Fleishman, a district leader who has led a rebellion to reform the judicial selection process. "These aren't the best judges out of the group."
Insurgent Judge Margarita Lopez Torres - who achieved fame for refusing the party leaders' request to hire a particular law secretary - is expected to be nominated from the floor, as she was last year.
Some Democrats expect to challenge Solomon's nomination, saying he has made anti-gay statements.
Another name that might surface from the floor is that of Civil Court Judge Kathryn Smith, who nearly lost her seat in last week's primary - and still may lose to Kathy King if this week's recount doesn't go her way.
Election results showed Smith leading by 41 votes. Insiders are saying King might squeak by in the recount.
Reformers say Norman tightly controls which names get on the ballot for Supreme Court. Norman's spokesman, Bob Liff, said the party leader is the broker, not the boss, of district leaders' selections and predicted today's meeting would be lively.
"It's a political process, and you'll have some political fights on the floor," he said.

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