Wednesday, March 1, 2006


Blue ribbon committee on judgeship screenings
By Thomas Tracy, Courier Life Publications, March 1, 2006

While politics may never be fully extricated from the Kings County Democratic Party? judicial candidate screening process, it can be made more independent, members of a special Blue Ribbon Panel learned Wednesday.

?s politics a natural part of the judicial selection process? Yes. Should it be? I say hell yes!?City Councilman Lew Fidler told members of a Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel given the charge of changing how judicial candidates for the Democratic party are selected for endorsement. ?e are not only selecting the people who are the most qualified for the job here. There is an ideology involvedÅ an inherent philosophy that the candidates we back have to support.?
Despite his beliefs, Fidler said that the Kings County Democratic Party has ?ost credibility with the public?in light of a string of headline-grabbing reports of unethical and criminal activities conducted by party-backed judges.

?till, politics is inherent in the process,?said Fidler, recommending that politics should not have a capital P in the screening process ?the first step in a judicial candidate? run, where a panel determines if he or she is qualified to receive the party? support.
The judicial selection committee was created a few years ago after widespread rumors arose that judgeships were being bought and sold by Democratic Party heads.
Currently, Democratic District Leaders are able to choose members who will be on the judicial selection committee, which is responsible for determining if a candidate is ?egally qualified?to run.

The committee either votes to approve or reject a candidate based on the person? record, knowledge of the law and a host of other factors. The names of those approved are then given to the party to endorse.

Critics charge that the judicial selection committee is the first and only line of defense against the placement of incompetent or corrupt judges on the bench. Since the borough is overwhelmingly Democratic, the candidates endorsed by the party are usually elected.
Fidler, a Democratic District Leader for the 41st Assembly District, said that if the Blue Ribbon Panel wanted to answer the public? cry to make the selection process more open and inclusive, then the panel should ?ake a step forward?and make sure that the district leaders have ?o political input in the screening panel.?
Roughly ten speakers shared their opinions with the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel during an open forum at St. Francis College on Remsen Street Wednesday evening. Speakers included Fidler, attorney Paul Wooten, retired judge Lorraine Miller and Joanne Simon, the female Democratic District Leader for the 52nd Assembly District in Park Slope.
The panel, co-chaired by St. Francis College President Frank Machiarolla and

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, is currently wrestling over a number of recommendations they believe will improve the party? judicial screening committee, including adding non-lawyers to the committee, term limits for those who are on the panel and the length and breadth of the appeals process, where judicial candidates determined not qualified can have their case revisited.

Attorney Martin Edelman, chair of the party? judicial screening committee since 2003, said that the committee selects candidates based on their record as well as for having an innate sense of fairness and a good demeanor when dealing with colleagues.

That being said, under his watch the committee decided to reject two sitting judges preparing their re-election campaigns, who thought that appearing before the committee was simply a formality.

That? where the appeals process became a sticky subject and politics raised its ugly head, Edelman explained.

?uddenly we?e getting all of these calls from other judges and lawyers that argued in front of these judges,?Edelman said. ?he party didn? support our findings.?Bowing to the pressure, selection committee members ?eversed their decision?upon appeal.

Edelman said that he has no problem with the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel making recommendations to change the current committee.

?e could always do better,?Edelman said. ?The Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel] is to reform judgeships in a borough that has suffered some terrible scandals. To do it right, they have to have both commitment and integrity.?

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