Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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

Monday, November 07, 2005


By JIM HINCH - NY Post October 12, 2005

Declared the winner.

October 12, 2005 -- Here comes the judge — and she's going to clean house.

In a slap to Brooklyn's Democratic machine, a Queens judge yesterday ruled that Margarita Lopez Torres will keep her 102- vote victory as a Surrogate Court judge in last month's primary election.

"Yes!" exulted Lopez Torres as she rode the elevator down from the courtroom where Judge Leslie G. Leach ordered her certified as the election winner. "It's a fresh start, a new day."

The reformist jurist said she intends to root out the "entrenched culture" of Brooklyn's patronage-ridden court.

Party loyalists had worked night and day for weeks to find enough votes to swing the election to Supreme Court Judge Diana Johnson, who attends disgraced former party boss Clarence Norman's church.

But they came up short. First, they said more than 1,000 votes should have been counted because they belonged to registered voters who simply forgot to mark that they were Democrats on the ballot.

But it emerged in court yesterday that many of those so-called "votes" were by people who didn't live in Brooklyn, weren't Democrats or were convicted felons

As a backup, Johnson's lawyer, Mitch Alter, asked to have the entire election tossed out because, he said, many voters had forged signatures at poll sites.

But many of those "forgeries" also didn't pan out, since they included votes by prominent city officials who had indeed voted.

After the ruling, Johnson said it would be "unseemly" for her to comment.

Alter said the Board of Elections didn't count questionable ballots in Brooklyn because they were trying to help mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer avoid a runoff.

A board lawyer denied that claim.

Lopez Torres said she would end past surrogate judges' habit of doling out estates and other lucrative legal work to cronies.



New York Daily News -
Lawsuits tossed in Surrogate's recount

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

The Brooklyn Democratic organization was dealt another blow yesterday after a pair of lawsuits were dismissed in a nasty fight over a powerful Surrogate's Court judge job.
Margarita Lopez Torres eked out a 102-vote victory over Diana Johnson for the post last month. Johnson and the county party sued, arguing that about 1,500 disqualified ballots should be included in the final tally.

Queens Supreme Court Judge Leslie Leach ruled yesterday that Johnson couldn't object to the ballots because her campaign approved of disqualifying them when they believed she was leading the close race. Lopez Torres' victory should be certified by the Board of Elections, he ordered.

Lopez Torres - considered a key reform figure in Brooklyn's scandal-racked judiciary - said her victory sent a signal to party leaders.

"It will no longer be business as usual, and they know that," Lopez Torres told the Daily News. "People want a courthouse that serves people, not one that enriches certain individuals."

But the electoral saga isn't over. Johnson's lawyer Mitch Alter pledged to appeal, calling Leslie's decision "all screwed up."

Alter plans to charge the Board of Elections engaged in a complex scheme to help Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer avoid a runoff election by counting certain ballots in the Bronx and not in Brooklyn.

Ballots that could have tilted the election in Johnson's favor weren't counted, Alter charged.

"For the Board of Elections to count ballots with a defect in one county and not count them in Brooklyn is outrageous," Alter said.

A Board of Elections spokesman didn't return calls for comment.

Judge: Surrogate race result stands

Judge: Surrogate race result stands
November 1, 2005


Surrogate Court candidate Margarita Lopez Torres finally claimed victory last night, beating the Brooklyn Democratic machine-backed candidate.
The electoral saga ended not with a bang, but a whimper: A two-sentence decision from federal Judge Raymond Dearie released yesterday dismissed a last-ditch effort to overturn the result of the Sept. 13 primary, which Lopez Torres won by 102 votes.

Lawyers for party-backed candidate Diana Johnson apparently exhausted all their legal options, said Lopez Torres' campaign manager, Gary Tilzer.

"For the first time since the election, there are no court cases pending," said Tilzer.

Lopez Torres is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election on the Democratic ticket.

The closeness of September's Surrogate Court election - both Lopez Torres and Johnson got about 39% of the vote - prompted fevered recounting and lawsuits alleging several hundred disqualified paper ballots should be included in the final tally.

After a Queens State Supreme Court judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits filed by Johnson and the Brooklyn Democratic organization, the Elections Board certified Lopez Torres' victory.

But Johnson's lawyer Mitch Alter convinced the state Appellate Division to force the counting of about 900 disputed paper ballots last week - which resulted in Johnson losing by twice as many votes. Lopez Torres picked up an additional 103 votes in a recount that ended Friday.

Alter agreed that Lopez Torres had won, saying that because "the federal suit was denied, as far as I can see, it's all over."

Lopez Torres is considered a key reform figure in a position that is especially vulnerable to corruption. The Surrogate Court handles the estates of the deceased and millions of dollars in lawyers' fees, making it a post the county Democratic organization desperately wanted to keep in the family.

"She didn't have as much money as the other candidates, yet she gave the voters of Brooklyn a choice of real reform, and the voters responded," Tilzer said.

Originally published on November 1, 2005