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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brooklyn Hero Emerges in Court Corruption Movement

The Impossible Dream
Judicial Reports by Jason Boog - August 20, 2008

A Brooklyn judicial delegate has mounted a campaign to clean up the judge picking process.

In his concurrence with the unanimous 2008 decision upholding New York’s system for selecting judges, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens famously invoked an observation by his former colleague, Thurgood Marshall: “The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws.”

In the first judicial election since that ruling, a Brooklyn judicial convention delegate — one of the privileged 141 Supreme Court choosers hand-picked by the Borough’s Democratic Party leaders — has declared war on the whole “stupid” system. “It’s really an anointment process,” said delegate Chris Owens, one of the delegates who will pick candidates to fill three openings on the Kings County Supreme Court in the September convention. “If we are going to have an appointment system, let’s call it that,” Owens continued. “If we’re going to make it an election, let’s make it an election we can be proud of. ” So far, Owens has raised $2,000 for his campaign to increase awareness of the judicial delegate system. He plans to distribute flyers to help make the public see just how tricked-up the labyrinthine process really is.

Working independently, Owens has produced a webpage featuring a manifesto against the delegate system, complete with a world music soundtrack on which the political activist sings a political anthem he wrote entitled, “Love Is the Way.” Owens also has set up a Facebook group for his campaign, collecting 212 members as of this writing. An unaffiliated gadfly? A member of the lunatic fringe? Hardly. The son of a former U.S. Congressman, Owens is president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a powerful political club in the Borough.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

The Don Quixote delegate can collect a thousand Facebook friends and print a million flyers, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lopez-Torres v. New York State Board of Elections virtually guaranteed that the windmills of the party boss system will keep on spinning for some time to come. Indeed, Owens himself is part of a slate of delegates who will enter the judicial convention uncontested — a testament to the smoothness of the Democratic Party’s machinery in Brooklyn.

Following New York State Election Law, judicial delegates such as Owens — picked from political clubs, influential organizations, and activist groups — effectively endorse the party leader’s choice at a scripted convention. In the overwhelmingly Democratic constituencies in New York City, that endorsement is tantamount to election. Unless the political parties decide to change their rules or the State Legislature drafts a new system, the judicial delegate process will stand forever in New York State.

“I will use the fact I am going into this [convention] to publicize the meeting,” said Owens, “ to highlight a process that is insular and not particularly transparent to the public. I don’t even know what the [judicial candidate] menu is going to be, and that in and of itself, is a problem for me . . . and here we are one of the biggest counties in the United States.” A number of delegates and political leaders concede the autocratic nature of the process. “In Brooklyn, I can’t even remember where there’s been a judicial delegate race,” said Alan Fleishman, the Democratic District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District, where Owens is serving as delegate. With very rare exceptions, the same can be said for the other four boroughs.

“At least [Owens] is keeping the [judicial selection reform] flame alive,” added political consultant Gary Tilzer. “I don’t see anybody else saying that. Not one elected official.” Tilzer helped then-Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres during her bids for the Supreme Court nomination. After five judicial convention shutouts, she filed her historic lawsuit. Despite his admiration for Owens’s campaign, Tilzer was pessimistic about his prospects. “When you don’t even have any opposition to the District Leader, how are you going to get opposition to [the Leader’s] judicial delegates?” he said. “It’s a total shut-down of the judicial system.”

ENTRENCHED SYSTEM

When pressed for historic examples of delegate dissent, Tilzer recalled how a coalition of 10 Brooklyn reform clubs attempted to run an oppositional slate of delegates against the Party delegates in the 1970s. They could only muster about 40 delegates at the convention, well below the number needed to actually sway the nomination process. “It is what it is. The candidates have been nominated, and we give them a rubber stamp of approval,” said Karen Johnson, a 52nd District Delegate and Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Congressman Ed Towns. “You’re always free to challenge the pack. Right now, there’s nobody challenging the status quo. It’s a little mundane.”

“The [political] clubs are representative of different areas and constituencies in our district, and we try to come up with a representative sample of activists in our community,” said Fleishman when asked how he helps pick the 11 delegates who will attend the judicial convention from his District. Delegate allotments are based on a complicated calculus that measures enrollment figures from the last gubernatorial election for each District, doling out more delegates to active neighborhoods. The 52nd District includes the politically active communities of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Park Slope. Its 11 Delegates are the most of any District in Brooklyn.

The 52nd contains three influential political clubs: Owens’s Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, and the Brooklyn arm of Lambda Independent Democrats. “A lot of us were disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the system to continue, but until we come up with a better system, this is what we have,” said Bob Zuckerman, a 52nd AD Delegate and a City Council candidate in Brooklyn. Zuckerman is also President of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, and he provided an insider’s glimpse into the arcane process.

Along with dozens of club members, Zuckerman canvassed Brooklyn with political petitions. The petitions included names of a variety of candidates for various non-judicial offices, depending on election districts. At the bottom of these petitions were the names of the judicial delegates — an unchallenged slate that included political activists from around the district. Zuckerman admitted that most petition-signers never even notice the judge pickers on the petitions. “I think people completely overlook it. It’s in small type, it’s quite large the list of candidates. Unless you make a point of brining it up, people just gloss right over it,” he said. Once the judicial delegates had collected 500 signatures, they were automatically included on the official list of delegates to the judicial convention in September. No one opposed their slate this year.

ONE CONTESTED DELEGATE LIST

Out of the 20 Democratic delegate lists proposed in Brooklyn, only one seems to be contested. In the 40th District — where Assemblywoman Diane Gordon served until she resigned after her conviction on bribery charges — two competing slates of seven delegates are now printed on the City Board of Elections primary contest list. This extra slate mystified Earl Williams, the District Leader in the 40th AD. “I’ve never seen it happen before,” he said. “I am speculating that [City Councilman] Charles Barron wants to get control of the District.” Barron’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

Nevertheless, Williams saw picking delegates as one of the Party’s most important functions. “[Our delegates] are aware when they go to the convention they will be selecting a judge for the long term. They must look at the qualifications for who is running,” he explained. “My democratic club votes on [which delegates] will be on the petition.” Williams has been a delegate for years, and said that he loves the process. “It gives me an opportunity to see inside and out the people we select for Supreme Court judges,” he said. Other districts aren’t quite as open about their process. The 53rd AD is home to Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the chairman of the Brooklyn Democrats. His home turf only gets six delegates, and some of them appear to have close ties to the politician.

Judicial Reports obtained a tentative delegate candidacy list that seemed to include Anna Gonzalez, the former chair of Community Board 4 in Brooklyn and Yvette Perez, a staffer at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — a social services non-profit that Assemblyman Lopez helped found. While neither woman returned calls for confirmation, both praised Assemblyman Lopez's housing reform efforts in this 2003 New York Times article. In addition, a delegate named Stephen Levin rounds out the list. Assemblyman Lopez’s Chief of Staff is named Stephen Levin, but he did not return a call for comment. By tradition, the five Supreme Court incumbents in Brooklyn will receive uncontested nominations at the convention.

As for the open seats, according to multiple delegates in Brooklyn, the final list of candidates had not been shared with the judge pickers as of this writing. The Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair did not respond to a call for comment on this article. Owens noted that the final list is generally never settled until the weeks leading up to the judicial convention — sometimes the Democratic leaderships' anointed favorites aren’t clear until the day of the actual convention. “Unless there’s something really wrong with them, the [judicial picks] are automatically becoming the nominees,” concluded Owens. “Realistically, how can a Supreme Court Judge be held accountable for anything?”   jasonboog@judicialstudies.com

3 comments:

brooklynite said...

Good Luck buddy you will need it

Anonymous said...

Lopez story was a good one.
It is online everyone should read
what they did to Lopez.
And the courts gave it the seal of approval.
it was pathetic

Anonymous said...

BTW - The appellate division is full of a-holes who consider a father a endless hole of $$ and yet remove their constitutional rights to raise their children on a whim. These dopes bounce off each others decisions until the case record is so screwed up that it would take NASA to figure out.
This is nothing new to anyone with 1/2 a brain left after surviving the corrupt and rotten ny legal system here in NY. The lawyers and judges are laughing now but one of these days they will be caught and hopefully they will be publicly humiliated and there families will abandon them.
**Here is an idea***
If you know a lawyer or a judge who drinks too much and drives or is having an affair and .....why don't you properly document it and call the police when they enter their car or call their spouse. It is time to turn the digital age and youtube against the lawyers and judges here in NY. Don't harass or unjustly bother anyone. Just do your civic duty in appropriate fashion. Criminals are on both sides of the bench and should be reported.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2