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Sunday, October 26, 2014

New surrogate joined old game

A 'Press' special report

By Joe Stepansky and Jacob Hodes
Posted

In January, the Bronx got a new surrogate judge for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.

Nelida Malave-Gonzalez became the first woman and the first Latino to serve in the position, replacing longtime surrogate Lee Holzman, who retired amid scandal.

The youngest of 12 children, Judge Malave-Gonzalez, 49, grew up in public housing in Morrisania. She graduated from Fordham University and Queens College Law School and was elected civil court judge in 2005.

After being promoted to acting justice on the Bronx Supreme Court three years ago, she got the backing of the Bronx Democratic Party to run for surrogate.

She went uncontested in the primary and won the general election handily.

Bronx politicians have aided in her ascent; and they have also benefitted.

A Press examination of Malave-Gonzalez’s record reveals that she has steered tens of thousands of dollars in fiduciary appointments to Bronx Democratic heavyweights, some of whom helped her move up the judicial ladder.

Despite decade-old reforms designed to ensure such appointments are made “on the basis of merit, without favoritism, nepotism, politics or other factors,” it seems the old patronage system persists.

Judge Malave-Gonzalez declined requests for an interview. Her court attorney, Magdalena Porrata, told a reporter that Judge Malave-Gonzalez’s policy is not to speak with the press.

Jeffrey Dinowitz

Judge Malave-Gonzalez’s most frequent appointee was Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who in addition to serving as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party’s county committee is the leader of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Dedmocratic Club.

To date, Mr. Dinowitz has earned $30,331 on cases handed out by Judge Malave-Gonzalez.

From 2000 to 2009, Mr. Dinowitz took on a handful of cases most years, earning an annual average of $5,978. But since 2010, his average has more than doubled, thanks to frequent appointments from Judge Malave-Gonzalez.

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