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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Politics plays key role in appointments

(Page 3 of 3)
By CUNY Graduate School of Journalism investigative reporting students in conjunction with Riverdale Press editors
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Bronx Supreme Court
“The problem you really confront as a judge is this, you have a list of people in front of you who want to be considered for these appointments, but you don’t really know the quality of their work,” Judge McKeon said. “Often, you’re going to turn to someone who you’ve had experience with and who you believe can do a good job.”

But The Press’ review found that politically connected attorneys have continued to prosper.

Furthermore, court documents on guardianships that should be immediately available to the public were kept under seal. They were only released after Judge McKeon agreed to redact personal information.

The practice contradicts the official policy of the Office of Court Administration, which oversees the courts and that of every other borough’s courthouse.

Ravi Batra, a Brooklyn attorney who in the past has been accused of benefiting from his own chummy relationships with judges, said the court system supplies politicians, who have few avenues for making extra money, with an easy side gig.
“By and large, it’s pure patronage,” he said.

Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said attempts to change the law to prevent county committees from having exclusive power over putting judges on the ballot — and thus owing favors to the people who put them there — had gone all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but had fallen flat.

Changing the system, it seems, is a classic catch-22.

“The same party apparatus that controls the judgeship makes it difficult to move meaningful reform through the legislature,” he said.

The intractability of this problem may be why James Sample, professor of Hofstra Law School, counts the way judges get on the ballot as one of the last vestiges of the old party boss system.

“It’s kind of a byproduct of Tammany Hall,” he said.

—Reporting contributed by Cesar R. Bustamante, Jr.

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