Update: Judicial Elections

In a previous post about The Process is the Punishment, I noted that author Malcolm Feeley placed great emphasis on the role of political patronage in organization and decision-making process of courts and wondered how much of a role that factor still played. This month we had a Surrogates Court race in Brooklyn (a position historically assocated with patronage). Recent scandals in Brooklyn have resulted in resignations and the imprisonments of at least one judge as well as the County Democratic Party leader. Many of the scandals focused on accusations that judicial candidates were forced to "buy" their seats from political leaders. Read More to find out what was the outcome of the race.

Well, the "reform" candidate beat the "party" candidate in the September 18 Democratic primary. A closer read of the candidates histories indicates that both have ties to the local political establishment. Nonetheless Shawndya Simpson promoted a more reform minded agenda and was endorsed by more independent good government and reform groups. Here is a good explanation of the race on Gotham Gazette (and some other judicial elections around the city).

The New York Times quoted one Democratic political consultant as saying: "The Brooklyn Democratic Party, though it’s the largest [county organization in the state], hasn’t been a strong unified machine since the days of Meade Esposito,” who led the Brooklyn Democratic Party for a quarter century until he retired in 1983.

New Update (10/05/2007): The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case challenging the process for selecting judicial candidates as being to tightly controlled by political parties. Although two lower courts found that the current process is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court appears unlikely to overturn the current system.

From the New York Times: "The lead plaintiff is Margarita L√≥pez Torres, now the Brooklyn Surrogate Court judge, who as an elected Civil Court judge tried unsuccessfully to get the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s backing to run for State Supreme Court. She had angered party leaders by refusing to make patronage appointments." Full Article, and background.