Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

Keep up to date with the latest Newspaper and Internet articles on this year's Brooklyn Surrogate Court race

Saturday, September 24, 2005

STEALING A JUDGESHIP FROM THE VOTERS

Daily News – 9/20/05
Editorial
STEALING A JUDGESHIP FROM THE VOTERS

For sheer brass, no one in New York City politics surpasses Clarence
Norman. While standing trial on the first of four felony indictments,
the boss of the Brooklyn Democratic organization is giving a powerful
judgeship to a hack whose only judicial experience was judging the Queen
of Coney Island beauty pageant.

On Norman's say-so, Assemblyman Frank Seddio is taking a newly created
surrogate judgeship, a post he can hold for 12 years - without even one
voter having a say in the matter. And all that time, Seddio will have
free rein to dole out millions of dollars in patronage.

Surrogates - judges who handle estates of the dead - are supposed to be
elected. But Norman can install whomever he wants because this post was
created in a dark-of-the-night deal as the Legislature shut down for
business last spring.

Giving Norman say over the judgeship spared him the hassle of having the
voters select the new surrogate in a primary. Allowing the voters into
the picture would have put Norman at very real risk of watching the
surrogate's job go to an insurgent. Were that to happen, all the
politically connected lawyers and accountants who feast on Surrogate's
Court appointments would have been out of luck.

So Norman anointed Seddio, of Canarsie, a former cop who slowly moved up
the political ladder. And as Seddio's official Assembly biography says,
"He is best known for his elaborate Christmas display that surrounds his
home each year, which is visited by thousands." When Seddio [above]
becomes surrogate, there will likely be gifts year-round for the
Brooklyn machine.

It is repulsive that Norman would award, and that Seddio would accept, a
long-term post that belongs to the voters. Norman first offered the spot
to Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who wanted it badly but bowed out honorably.
Seddio should show as much class. He should step down so the governor
can appoint an acting surrogate. There would then be a primary election
next September.

Do the right thing, Mr. Seddio, quit and make your case to voters.

Crain's Insider

Crain's Insider - 9-20-05

Surrogate: Civil Court Judge Margarita López Torres will be the next
Brooklyn surrogate after a recount found that she won the Democratic primary by 90 votes out of nearly 107,000 cast. The initial count had Supreme Court Judge Diana Johnson ahead by 80 votes.

Judge Lopez Torres Takes Lead

New York Law Journal 9/20/05
Judge Lopez Torres Takes Lead in Still Incomplete Count
— Daniel Wise
In a dramatic turnabout, Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres nudged 90 votes ahead of Supreme Court Justice Diana A. Johnson in the race for the Democratic nomination for surrogate in Brooklyn, according to the latest tally by the city Board of Elections yesterday. And in the race for Civil Court from District 6 in Brooklyn, the leader Cynthia Boyce saw her lead over Michael J. Gerstein dwindle to six votes. Only absentee ballots that were received yesterday or will be received in today's mail remain to be counted, said board spokesman Christopher Riley. To be valid an absentee ballot must have been postmarked by 12 a.m. Monday, Sept. 12. In addition, should the results be challenged in court, about 150 paper ballots have been set aside for judicial review, said Steven Richman, the board's counsel. Of those 150 ballots, about 65 have not yet been counted, he added. In the unofficial tally reported last Wednesday, Justice Johnson had led Judge Lopez Torres by 80 votes. Since last Wednesday, Ms. Boyce's lead has narrowed to six votes from 123. A third candidate in District 6 which covers Park Slope, Flatbush and neighboring communities, Ingrid Joseph, trails Mr. Gerstein by 118 votes. Meanwhile, former Supreme Court Justice Kristin Booth Glen has broadened her lead over Blank Rome partner Eve Rachel Markewich by 84 votes to 2,242 in a tight race for surrogate in Manhattan.

CBID Letter

Tom Bergdall l Marty Bernstein l Ken Diamondstone l
Alan Fleishman l Susan Loeb l Warren Miner l
Jim O’Reilly l Ellen Raider
Members of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats

Wednesday, September 7, 2005 Contact: (347) 623-2668-Susan Loeb

Honorable Lawrence Knipel
765 East 18th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11230

Dear Justice Knipel:

As Members of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats ("CBID"), we write
to strenuously object to the continued distribution ­ apparently by your
campaign ­ of a piece of campaign literature that blatantly
misrepresents the position of CBID with respect to your candidacy. We
call on you to direct your campaign, and those working on your behalf,
to immediately cease distribution of this campaign literature, and to
publicly state that this piece shall not be distributed.

The piece, a copy of an article in the Brooklyn Eagle from July 8, 2005,
written by Charles Otey, implies that CBID is supporting you. “Justice
Knipel’s virtues as a Surrogate were being extolled by organizations
such as the Central Brooklyn Independents, a reform-minded group ...”

This statement is false; as of July 8, 2005, CBID had not taken a
position on any of the candidates for Surrogate. Moreover, as you are
well aware, on July 21, 2005, CBID endorsed Judge Margarita Lopez Torres
for Surrogate, not you.

Notwithstanding the fact that you were denied CBID¹s endorsement, you
continued to distribute this piece. Indeed, at the August 3rd
endorsement meeting of Lambda Democrats, CBID Vice President Ken
Diamondstone spoke to you and objected your continued use of this
article as misrepresenting CBID. We understand that you assured him this
would not happen in the future.

Despite all this, we understand that this piece was distributed
door-to-door in parts of Park Slope, one month later, on September 3.
Moreover, the piece distributed omitted the author’s byline ­ making it
appear to be an editorial from the Eagle, which it apparently is not.
And the piece failed to indicate it was paid for by your campaign, or,
for that matter, who had paid for the printing and distribution of this
piece. As you should know, there are rules against anonymous campaign
leaflets.

More importantly, we believe that your campaign's continued distribution
of this piece reflects badly on your integrity as a judicial candidate.
The Judicial Conduct Rules, section 100.5 (A)(4)(d)(iii), says that a
judge shall not “Knowingly make any false statement or misrepresent the
identity, qualifications, current position or other fact concerning the
candidate or opponent.”

We ask that you immediately rectify this. You did not receive CBID's
support, and should not imply that you did.

The signers of this letter are currently active members in good standing of
The Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. They are speaking solely for
themselves and not CBID.

Sincerely,
Susan Loeb
On behalf of:

Tom Bergdall
Martin Bernstein
Ken Diamondstone
Alan Fleishman
Warren Miner
James O’Reilly
Ellen Raider

Monday, September 05, 2005

Brooklyn Surrogate's Court: López Torres

El Diario - Sept 5, 2005
Editorial Endorsement

We go to Surrogate`s Court at some of the most stressful times in our lives – when a loved one dies, with or without a will; when a mentally retarded adult or an elderly relative needs a guardian; or when we adopt a child.

Because Brooklyn is in the midst of a judicial corruption scandal, the primary election there for the Judge of the Surrogate's Court takes on added importance. It's crucial that the next judge be a person who has demonstrated competence, integrity and independence from the political machine. That person is Margarita Lopez Torres.

She seeks to replace Michael Feinberg, who the state Court of Appeals removed in June for paying excessive fees to lawyers he appointed to deal with the estates of people who died without leaving a will. Another Surrogate's Court judgeship was created in a last-minute deal between Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature, but it was effective Aug. 1, too late for the primary. Instead, the Brooklyn Democratic party leader gets to appoint that judge. The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed a lawsuit to stop it.

Lopez Torres was elected to the Civil Court in 1992 with Democratic machine backing, but she has since fallen out of favor with party leaders and they refused to endorse her in 2002. She was re-elected anyway.

Although people think only rich people with big wills end up in Surrogate's Court, Lopez Torres says most of the estates are small. She wants to ensure that lawyers' fees are appropriate. And she wants to include more Hispanics and Blacks on the list of lawyers who are assigned to handle estates and as guardians.

All this will take a judge who will pick people not because of their political connections, but because they will provide the best service for the public. We believe that person is Margarita Lopez Torres and we endorse her for Surrogate's Court judge.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

For Cleaner Courts in Brooklyn

New York Times -- Editorial Endorsement
Sept. 4, 2005
Two critical contests on the Sept. 13 Democratic primary ballot in Brooklyn - for district attorney and for a Surrogate's Court judgeship - offer voters a chance to register their disgust with the cozy clubhouse-courthouse ties that lie at the heart of the borough's judicial patronage and corruption scandal, and the undue influence of Clarence Norman's local Democratic machine. Together, these races amount to a referendum on cleaning up the local political and justice system.

Surrogate's Court

There are two Surrogate's Court seats to be filled this fall in Brooklyn. But voters in the Sept. 13 primary have been granted a say in filling only one - the vacancy created in June when the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, took the rare step of removing Surrogate Michael Feinberg, a Democratic clubhouse stalwart, for doling out excessive fees to the crony he appointed to deal with the estates of those who died without leaving a will. In a disgraceful backroom deal, Albany recently created a second judgeship and timed it so that party regulars, not voters, would get to choose the candidate who will appear on the sure-to-win Democratic line in November.

These shenanigans make it all the more important to choose a candidate of proven independence from those who have long treated the Surrogate's Court as their personal cookie jar. Of the three candidates, only one fits the bill - Margarita Lopez Torres. A veteran Civil Court judge, Ms. Torres would start on Day 1 of her tenure to reorganize the court to serve the people as it is meant to.

Her rivals in the race, Supreme Court Justices Diana Johnson and Lawrence Knipel, are smart, competent and pledge reform. But their close ties to the clubhouse do not bode well for achieving the necessary clean break. We enthusiastically endorse Ms. Lopez Torres.

Choices for surrogate

Daily News - Editorial Endorsement
Sept. 4, 2005

Democratic primary voters in Brooklyn and Manhattan have a rare opportunity to elect surrogates, the judges who oversee the estates of the dead - a mother lode of patronage spoils. The Daily News endorses Margarita Lopez Torres in Brooklyn and Kristen Booth Glen in Manhattan because they appear most likely to remain above cronyism.

Brooklyn Dems get to pick a surrogate because the Commission on Judicial Conduct bounced party hack Michael Feinberg from the bench for letting a pal siphon millions of dollars from dead people's estates - malfeasance that was exposed by this newspaper. The three contenders for the spot are Lopez Torres, a Civil Court judge, and Supreme Court Justices Larry Knipel and Diana Johnson.

Lopez Torres has demonstrated competence on the bench while warring with the Democratic organization, and she promises reforms like using either court staff or rotating private lawyers to handle probate work. So she gets the nod. Knipel, who gets high marks for legal ability, and Johnson promise to limit political influence on lucrative court appointments, but both played footsie with the party to get their judgeships. (Knipel's wife is a Democratic district leader, and his campaign is backed by two retired judges who both testified as character witnesses on behalf of the ousted Feinberg.)

In Manhattan, the decisive factor is also independence from the party. On that score, Glen, dean of the CUNY law school who has served on both the Civil and Supreme courts, tops Eve Rachel Markewich, a private estates lawyer. Until recently, Markewich was a Democratic district leader, and she is backed by party bosses.

Glen promises to bar from appointment all elected party leaders, district leaders, county committee members and club presidents. She should add judicial nominating convention delegates to the list, and, if victorious on Sept. 13, she and Lopez Torres must follow through on aggressive reforms.