Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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Friday, July 22, 2005

A suspicious new judgeship

El Diario - July 22, 2005

EDITORIAL

We all have good reason to be suspicious about a new Surrogate Court Judge position in Brooklyn, created by Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature as the legislative session in Albany was drawing to a close last month.

Last Thursday, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund asked the U.S. Department of Justice to find that Pataki and the state Legislature violated the federal Voting Rights Act when they created the new judgeship. The post in Brooklyn is one of 21 new judgeships the governor and the legislature established across the state, effective Aug. 1. That makes it too late to hold a primary election, according to the state election calendar, which means political party bosses get to appoint the party candidate.

In Brooklyn, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, the Democratic candidate is virtually guaranteed to be the winner in November. And the man making the appointment will be none other than party boss Clarence Norman, who is currently under indictment on corruption charges.

Because of a history of racial discrimination, Brooklyn is covered by the Voting Rights Act. Any decision to add or remove a judgeship must be approved by the Justice Department. PRLDEF argues that the elimination of a primary election can severely reduce minority participation, and has asked the Justice Department to stop the appointment of candidates.

We agree that this process must be halted. The stakes are high. The new judge would serve for 14 years or until he turns 70, the mandatory retirement age.

People all over the state are upset about the judgeships, largely seen as patronage positions created by Pataki at a time when he is considering a run for higher office. Even if the new judgeship in Brooklyn passes Justice Department review, the system should appoint an interim judge for a year. Voters would select the judge in a primary and general election next year. And that’s as it should be.

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