Monday, September 08, 2008

Primaried! Part 2

Yesterday I looked at some the races in tomorrow's New York primary that I won't get to vote in. This post will be about the few races that will actually appear on my ballot.

I'll be voting for New York County Surrogate and Civil Court Judge. I have complained in the past about the system of selecting judges in New York. This time there's actually a competitive primary, and democratic elections are better than "democratic elections" (in which the candidates are chosen by party bosses and run unopposed), but still very problematic. The voters (myself included) are not sufficiently equipped to make informed decisions about the candidates. And nor should we be, because taking stances on the issues (which would be the main focus in the best possible scenario for a more public campaign) would impair would-be judges' impartiality. (Yes, at higher levels such as the Supreme Court of the United States, competing legal philosophies come into play, so that these stances become relevant in selecting judges, but I don't think the New York City Civil Court is in the business of overturning laws.) The best alternative would be for judges to be chosen (as at the federal level or in some states) by the elected branches of government, which are accountable to the voters (perhaps more than we are accountable to ourselves). Failing that, and assuming no change in the system, I have a responsibility to get informed about the candidates and vote, because if I (and others in my position) don't, then the only people who will vote will be people with a vested interest in the result. So here's my attempt. Please add more information in the comments.

In New York, each county (in NYC, that means each borough) has one or more surrogates. According to the New York constitution, "The surrogate's court shall have jurisdiction over all actions and proceedings relating to the affairs of decedents, probate of wills, administration of estates ... , guardianship of the property of minors, and such other actions and proceedings ... as may be provided by law." Surrogate's Court appears to be very dirty, and people have been arguing for its abolition for as long as they've been trying to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The candidates in the Democratic primary for New York County Surrogate are Nora Anderson, John Reddy, Jr., and Milton Tingling.

The New York Times says:

This obscure but unusually powerful court oversees wills, estates and adoptions — and is badly in need of change. The retirement of Renee Roth after 25 years as one of the borough’s two Surrogate’s Court judges is an opportunity to improve the court’s reputation. Ms. Roth will leave behind a legacy of unconscionable delays in deciding cases, imperious behavior and a tendency to use her office to reward cronies and further her personal interests.

Voters need to decide which of the three candidates vying to succeed her — Milton Tingling, John Reddy Jr. and Nora Anderson — has the independence and know-how to work effectively with Manhattan’s second, reform-minded Surrogate’s Court judge, Kristin Booth Glen, to transform the court.

Mr. Tingling, an affable but undistinguished state Supreme Court justice, seems least up to the task. Mr. Reddy, Ms. Roth’s handpicked counsel to the office charged with handling estates of those who die without wills, has an appealing manner and is plainly capable. But his ties to Ms. Roth and tolerance for the old-style, back-scratching culture make us doubt he would be an aggressive agent of change.

Our endorsement goes to Nora Anderson, an experienced trust and estates lawyer and former chief clerk in the Surrogate’s Court. Her decision to accept a large campaign loan from a mentor — a prominent trust and estates attorney — gives us pause. But we take seriously her pledge that he will not appear before her and believe, over all, that she offers the best hope of positive reform.

I've gotten a few pieces of campaign mail for this race. One of them attacks Anderson and quotes the Times out of context, quoting only the penultimate sentence without noting that she is endorsed. Oddly, there is no indication of who the message is coming from - is this from another candidate or an outside group? This has to violate some sort of campaign finance law. A flyer from John Reddy says "Someone has to stop the Republicans: JOHN REDDY WILL. The Bush administration continues to use petty political schemes in their attempts to permanently alter the American Justice system. The administration has been summarily replacing prudent and impartial Judges with unqualified 'yes men' who will give a free pass to their Conservative agenda. We cannot afford to waste our votes on an inexperienced and politically ambitious candidate who lacks the strength and independence to stand against the administration's deplorable ends." Which of his opponents is he referring to? Or is he keeping it vague on purpose? Obviously I agree that we want to stand up to the Bush administration, but is there any evidence that Anderson or Tingling will "give a free pass to their Conservative agenda", or is this just a nonsequitur? Reddy also claims endorsements from Carl McCall, Geraldine Ferraro, and people I haven't heard of. Tingling's flyer notes that he is the only candidate with judicial experience, and provides some specific proposals, including satellite offices uptown, clerks for those who cannot afford an attorney, and translators and translated materials. I didn't get any mail from Anderson.

Some other endorsements: Ryan Davis of the Huffington Post for Anderson, and the Daily News and the New York Press for Tingling.

That's all I got. Further thoughts?

The New York City Civil Court (with branches in each borough) has jurisdiction over civil cases where the amount in question is under $25,000. Anything larger goes to the "Supreme Court of the State of New York" (which is not the highest court in the state -- that's the Court of Appeals -- but a trial court with branches in each county). The candidates in the New York County Democratic primary are Nancy Bannon and Michael Katz.

The Times writes:

In this race for a countywide seat, we favor Nancy Bannon over Michael Katz. Both currently serve as law clerks in State Supreme Court. Both are able and committed to making the legal system more accessible for less-wealthy litigants. But Ms. Bannon’s thoughtful manner and depth of legal experience give her the edge.

Bannon also has an endorsement from the New York Press. I can't find much more information about either of them.

1 comment:

  1. From the September 4th NY Daily News:
    "Anderson has borrowed $225,000 from her longtime employer, trust lawyer Seth Rubenstein, who is the grandson of a surrogate and the father of Manhattan lawyer Joshua Rubenstein, who heads the trust and estate section of a major law firm.

    That's almost certainly a violation of Article 14, Section 114 of New York State election law, which specifies that a campaign loan "shall be deemed, to the extent not repaid by the date of the primary, general or special election, as the case may be, a contribution."

    The $225,000 is far above the legal contribution limit. So Anderson, if she wins, will likely be in violation of the law."

    Anderson has no intention of paying back that "Loan" and will only be subject to a small fine for intentionally violating the election law. Sad, a candidate for Judge violatig the law on her way to the bench. Can you imagine what her behaviot will be like once she's on the bench?

    John Reddy is a reformer with a 10 point plan on cleaning up Surrogate's Court. He worked hard to raise the money to finance his campaign, and every contribution he got was legal and didn't violate the elections law.

    Seth Rubenstein, the lawyer that loaned Nora Anderson the $225,000 will be appearing before her for guardianships if she is elected. You tell me, do you think he will get his money back tenfold with her as judge?

    If Seth Rubenstein wanted to control the Manhattan's Surrogate Court that much, he should have run for the office himself, rather than using Nora Anderson as his shill, and illegally financing her campaign from behind the scenes.

    As for Judge Tingling, he has the worst reversal rate of any NY State Superior Court Judge, being overturned by the appellate division almost 50 percent of the time.

    The only real candidate for changing Surrogate Court who is qualified and honest is John Reddy.