Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Rights Group Fights Judgeship Creation


July 22, 2005 Friday

A new set of judicial robes destined for Brooklyn could end up in mothballs because a civil rights group is going to the feds in a bid to block the controversial creation of the Surrogate Court position.

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund contends the Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act by ramming through a measure that shuts out voters from a chance to weigh in on judicial candidates in a primary election.

Citing the fact that Brooklyn falls under the Voting Rights Act, the group is asking the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department to intervene and stop the state from allowing the Nov. 8 general election for the Brooklyn surrogate judgeship to move forward.

"Clearly, the problem they are going to run up against is they violated the federal Voting Rights Act in the process of their machinations," Cesar Perales, the group's president, told the Daily News. "We certainly think that a court will agree with us."

Perales' group hopes the Justice Department will rule that the judgeship was engineered in a way that harms the ability of Hispanic and African-American voters to participate in the selection of the new judge.

State legislative insiders say the judgeship is expected to go to Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), a key lieutenant in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's operation at the state Capitol.

The Brooklyn judgeship was created as a part of a deal that allows Gov. Pataki to name 14 new Court of Claims judgeships and creates several other new judicial posts across the state.

In heavily Democratic Brooklyn, the judgeship was created in a way that empowers party boss Clarence Norman, an Assemblyman who works alongside Lentol in Silver's shop at the Capitol, to appoint the new surrogate.

Pataki aides said the state Board of Elections is drafting the "preclearance letter" the Justice Department needs in order to sign off on the state's effort to create the Brooklyn spot.

Justice Department officials reached in Washington last night had no immediate comment on the tempest erupting in Brooklyn.

Perales said his group was successful in delaying the city's mayoral primary in 1981 because of civil rights concerns. If the advocates get their way this time, lawmakers would be forced to go back to the drawing board - and enact legislation that paves the way for an open primary election, he said.


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