‘Important step’ toward new rules for picking judges
Seeking to come into line with a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, New York has begun appointing commissions to assess the qualifications of judicial candidates.
The Appeals Court upheld a decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson that local majority party leaders effectively pick State Supreme Court judges. Currently, the only way to get on the ballot for Supreme Court judge is to be nominated by a political party’s judicial nominating convention; it’s not possible to petition onto the ballot, as it is for other judicial positions in the state.
According to Gleeson’s decision, the state must revise its nominating system by this year’s elections to provide an alternate way onto the ballot, so that independent and non-party candidates will stand a chance. The most likely solution will be to hold primary elections.
The chief administrative judge of the State of New York established commissions in each of the state’s 12 judicial districts to see that those seeking to become judges are well qualified, ethical and committed to fair administration of justice.
‘It’s the first time there’s been an attempt by the state to make sure that all the judicial candidates on the ballot have been found well qualified by an independent commission, not a political party,’ said A. Thomas Levin of the Garden City law form Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, a former president of the New York State Bar Association.
Levin has been appointed to the qualification commission for the 10th Judicial District, which covers Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Nothing in the commissions’ rules would prohibit someone found unqualified from running, but those who were found qualified could say so, giving them a clear advantage.
‘What we need is for the public to be assured that all candidates on the ballot are well-qualified candidates, not just someone who was picked by the party bosses for some reason,’ Levin said.
The future of judicial selection in New York depends now on Albany. If the Legislature does nothing, under Gleeson’s ruling there will be open primaries in which anyone could run. But the Legislature could create other solutions, such as allowing both conventions and petitions onto the ballot, or allowing ballot access to convention candidates who hit a certain threshold, even if they don’t win outright.
The judicial commissions will have 15 members serving staggered three-year terms. Since the commissions are just beginning, members will be evenly divided between those serving one, two and three years. Levin has yet to learn how long his appointment will run.
Members, who serve pro bono, receive their appointments from a variety of sources, including top state judges, the president of the State Bar Association and local bar associations. Levin was appointed by State Bar Association President Mark Alcott.
Judicial selection is emerging as an important issue, Levin said, with pending litigation challenging other parts of the state’s system. The state bar favors merit appointments, Alcott said, with screening commissions presenting the executive of a jurisdiction – a mayor or county executive – a list of potential nominees, who would be appointed and then approved by the legislative branch.
That is how the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, is staffed. Such a change would require amending the state’s constitution, which takes three years.
‘In the interim, this is an important step,’ Alcott said.
‘The elective system pretty much restricts you,’ Levin said. ‘If you want to be a judge, you have to be a politician first. ‘
It’s very rare for judges to come from a strictly academic or legal practice background. Appointment, unlike elections, would encourage that, Levin said.
‘Both systems produce great judges, both produce clunkers,’ he added, ‘but in the long run, you get a better bench with appointments. ‘
State Bar Association names ‘Outstanding Lawyer of the Year’
(From The Daily Record, LIBN’s sister paper in Rochester:)
Laurie Giordano, a partner with Rochester law form Wolford & Leclair LLP, was recently named ‘Outstanding Lawyer of the Year’ by the New York State Bar Association.
Giordano, 36, said she always wanted to be an attorney. ‘I find the stories fascinating,’ she said. ‘To me, in litigation, every case and every situation is a story, so it’s always a different story. ‘
The award is given annually in recognition of an attorney who has been admitted to practice for less than 10 years and who provides outstanding service to both the legal profession and the community.