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Sunday, October 14, 2007

An October 14, 2007 Journal News Editorial...(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

Here's a Journal News Editorial:  Judged by the justices .....MORE....

Judged by the justices

(Original Publication: October 14, 2007)

Is the present process for nominating candidates for state Supreme Court justice in New York constitutional? Those who read the questions posed this month by justices of the Supreme Court of the United States might infer that the high court will come down on the side of the much-criticized, 86-year-old nominating system, which caters to political insiders and excludes those who are not.

Scrutiny of the state's nominating process came in oral argument in the case of Lopez Torres vs. the State of New York Board of Elections. Under review is a judicial convention system that two lower federal courts found unconstitutional, on the ground the process was totally dominated by political party leaders and not by independent delegates. The lower federal courts ordered the system dismantled and replaced by a traditional primary - meaning voters decide who gets their party's nomination - but in September 2006 and again last month judges were nominated under the same flawed system.

Justice David Souter remarked during the high court's hearing that he was not sure whether a system "in which the party bosses select the nominee is for constitutional purposes significantly different from the federal system for picking district judges." Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that maybe the present system was preferable to "a system where people raise $4 million from the lawyers in order to run for office."

The devil's advocate
Perhaps when the high court issues its ruling, New Yorkers will discover that the justices were merely playing devil's advocate as they fished for answers. In any event, no matter how the case is decided, the state Legislature appears unready to swiftly provide a remedy - despite having had some 21 months to prepare one. The state Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the matter in January, but no legislation was approved. So the imperative remains.

The Legislature must enact reforms to ensure that independent-minded delegates are elected. Only then can control be wrestled from the county party chairmen who now dominate the convention. Switching to a primary system would be no improvement until there is another change - a move to public financing of political campaigns. Such was a longshot in the early part of the year, when Gov. Eliot Spitzer discussed his Albany "wish list"; it would be an impossibility today, with trust between the Democratic governor and Joseph Bruno, Republican leader of the Senate, at a new low.

In January 2006, federal Judge John Gleeson, ruling in Brooklyn, found that the state system was so exclusionary that it violated the voters' right to freedom of political association under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Gleeson found that Margarita Lopez Torres, a Brooklyn Surrogate Court judge, had been blocked from the opportunity to run for state Supreme Court, by political leaders angry because she refused to make patronage appointments. Gleeson said the system deprived voters of a say in who was on the final ballot and instructed the state to find another procedure. Until that happened, he ordered that candidates for state Supreme Court be chosen by primary elections. He later delayed implementation of a primary election after learning that such an election, without public money to finance judicial campaigns, might amount to a "cure" being worse than the "disease."

Unlike county and family judges who are selected by voters in a primary held in one county, state Supreme Court candidates would be required to run for the nomination in districts with several counties and spend substantial amounts of money and time to reach far-flung voters. Our 9th Judicial District covers Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties with close to 1.5 million potential voters. In such a situation, favored would be wealthy candidates or those who would accept contributions mainly from lawyers or litigants.

Present laws designed to make conventions democratic are anything but democratic. In the 9th District, for instance, Republicans now choose 139 delegates and Democrats 76 every September in the regular primaries. Many are party functionaries who depend on the party to gather at least 500 names on nominating petitions for them. For the most part, they rubber-stamp recommendations of party leaders from the five counties.

Judge Kaye's concerns
New York Chief Justice Judith Kaye recognized the faults of the judicial system several years ago when she appointed a 29-member Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections. Westchester's John Feerick, professor of law and former dean of law at Fordham, chaired the commission. The report castigated the convention system and said that the only good alternative was to make it more transparent, deliberative and open to all qualified people, including those who lack political party connections. Delegates should be elected in the year preceding the convention and serve three years instead of only the current two or three weeks. The number of delegates should be reduced and so should the number of names they are required to get on their petitions. We agree.

Judge Kaye took her own first step toward reform Feb. 8, when she created Independent Judicial Election Qualifications Commissions for each of the judicial districts; 15 people - lawyers and lay people - were selected to each commission by Kaye, the presiding judges of the four appellate divisions and the state and local bar associations. The commissions interviewed candidates for judge and, prior to the conventions, announced the names of those found qualified. In fact, a number of people found qualified were nominated at the conventions for Supreme Court, and during the primaries for other judicial positions.

Kaye said such commissions "do not alter the current elective system but rather bolster it by providing credible, independent local bodies to evaluate the qualifications of judicial aspirants." That was one step toward reform. The state Legislature must complete the job by adopting improvements for the convention system so that next September party chairs no longer will be in control of nominations. And it should get started before the Supreme Court renders its decision.

A Journal News editorial

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Anonymous said...

Run Mickey Mouse he would make a better Judge that the rest of these JERKS

Anonymous said...

Finally the Journal News reporting and commenting on something substantial. When they should have been reporting on Ms. Pirro's corruption, they ran articles about apple picking.

Al Pirro and his thug friend controlled the Journal News.

Glad there's a change there.. i just may start buying the paper again.

Anonymous said...

Has the Journal News finally come to about the corrupt Judges?

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