Pick State Court Candidates

The New York Times
September 11, 2003 Thursday
Late Edition - Final

Familiar Look as Democrats


The leaders of Brooklyn's Democratic Party gathered last night in a smoke-free, mirror-and-glass-lined room to pick their candidates for State Supreme Court.
But even without the smoke-filled room (and with some heated arguments), the nominees for the five open judicial seats were divided along the ethnic lines many party insiders had been predicting for months: three white Jewish men, one Hispanic man, one black woman.
The party is under intense scrutiny, in the press and by prosecutors, over the way judges are selected in the borough.
District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has called the process a sham and has a grand jury investigating whether judgeships are bought and sold by the party. Iin the last two years, one justice has pleaded guilty to taking a bribe in a case and been sentenced to prison, another was removed from the bench for financial improprieties, and a third, Gerald P. Garson, has been charged with receiving bribes in divorce cases; he has pleaded not guilty.
Last night's session was supposed to showcase the new open-and-above-board Democratic Party. "It was a wonderful meeting and we had some healthy democracy," said Clarence Norman, the party's beleaguered leader.
But dissidents complained that the proceedings were still controlled and choreographed by Mr. Norman and other party bosses. And Congressman Edolphus Towns, a longtime rival of Mr. Norman's, resigned his post as district leader just before the meeting began. Karen Johnson, Mr. Towns's chief of staff, said the congressman believed the judicial selection process was still tainted.
Other district leaders complained about the low representation of minorities and women among the party's candidates, whose nominations require official approval at a convention, scheduled for next week, controlled by party leaders. Because Brooklyn is heavily Democratic, getting the party's nod traditionally means getting the job, even if a Republican runs in November.
"It's a shame we haven't sent more women up to Supreme Court," said Alan Fleischman, a district leader from Park Slope and a leader of the Coalition for an Independent Brooklyn Judiciary.
Last year, the party nominated five men and just one woman for six open slots on the Supreme Court.
This year's female nominee may prove controversial. As a criminal court judge, Bernadette P. Bayne drew protests from Legal Aid lawyers in 1991 after having one of them handcuffed for 20 minutes for being late and "making faces."
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani did not reappoint her to the bench, a fact she used to garner support among Democrats in her successful election campaign for civil court in 1999. Although she ran as an insurgent against a Democratic candidate backed by Mr. Norman, the party leader, she had support from the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The leaders considered only one other black woman -- Judge Kathryn M. Smith of civil court -- at last night's meeting. She faced a primary challenge on Tuesday and was leading her opponent by only 41 votes yesterday.
The leaders once again passed over Judge Margarita Lopez Torres, who stood outside the diner where the meeting was taking place, shaking hands and joking about being an "unofficial greeter."
The judge won a bruising battle to retain her civil court seat last year, after party leaders took the unusual step of refusing to endorse her for a second term; her supporters say she had earned their wrath by failing to hire people they recommended.
That wrath has clearly not ebbed; the district leaders voted against her and in favor of Raymond Guzman, who ran unopposed for civil court in 1999 and now sits in criminal court in Manhattan.
The three candidates who were shoo-ins at the meeting last night were: Bruce M. Balter, a civil court judge elected on the Democratic and Republican lines in 1997; Arthur M. Schack, a civil court judge and former lawyer for the Major League Baseball Players Association, whose wife is a district leader; and Martin M. Solomon, a former state senator who was elected to the civil court in 1995.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?