March 19, 2004 Friday Daily News
SUES OVER HOW JUDGES ARE PICKED
By JOHN MARZULLI
A Brooklyn civil court judge is charging in a lawsuit that the system of selecting state Supreme Court justices by party bosses is a "sham" and unconstitutional.
"If you were to ask people how Supreme Court justices are selected, they would say, 'There's an election,' but very few people have an understanding how those names get on the ballot - and they would be horrified," said Judge Margarita Lopez Torres.
The judge is the lead plaintiff in the suit, filed yesterday against the state Board of Elections in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Elected to the bench in 1992, Lopez Torres has sought the Democratic nomination for Supreme Court since 1997 but has not gotten the support of the county leadership because she reportedly refused to hire a party-backed attorney as her law secretary.
"All too often under the current system, a candidate's loyalty to the party leadership is much more important in obtaining a place on the general ballot than the candidate's legal experience, ethics or integrity," said Frederick Schwarz, who represents the plaintiffs. He also is senior counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which brought the suit.
The suit before Federal Judge John Gleeson seeks to junk the current system of holding nominating conventions controlled by Democratic and Republican Party leaders to select judicial candidates. The suit charges that the process effectively shuts out challengers and cheats voters out of their right to choose.
Until the state Legislature replaces the system, direct primary elections could be held - an alternative that critics say is problematic, too.
Direct primaries "would be grotesquely unseemly," said Councilman Lewis Fidler (D-Brooklyn). "You'd have sitting judges raising money and campaigning. It would be a sad sight."