Dinowitz should return to his roots as a reformer


(re: “Some still frustrated by rather confusing nom process,” Aug. 20)

In the Aug. 20 edition of The Riverdale Press, Kirstyn Brendlen informatively reports of Jeffrey Dinowitz’s continuing defense of the indefensible closed-door Bronx County judicial selection process. Ms. Brendlen writes that Dinowitz justifies this practice as “a necessary and effective way to get nominations locked in.”

Locked in for whose benefit? Certainly not with a standard of excellence in mind. I urge the Assemblyman to reconsider his embrace of this destructive practice.

Mr. Dinowitz, you came to this community as a reformer — and for much of your career, you have pursued that promise. In recent times, however, you appear to have slipped into a routine that so often infects long-termers, placing party loyalty above enlightened independence.

Thus, you were woefully late in supporting Sen. Alessandra Biaggi’s progressive campaign two years ago. And more recently, fought the congressional candidacy of Jamaal Bowman, working instead on behalf of our absentee congressman, Eliot Engel — himself a one-time reformer who abandoned his roots.

Your dogged support of this borough’s judicial selection process is the antithesis of what is good for this community — or your legacy.

Leaving aside the practical hurdles any interested attorney has in timely understanding and fulfilling the detailed judicial application process, your selection process has systematically sacrificed judicial excellence to the altar of support for the Bronx Democratic Party organization. It makes no pretense at seeking the best.

As you know, there are two ways for women and men to become judges in the Bronx County supreme court. One, which has consistently produced well-qualified acting supreme court judges, comes by way of the mayor’s non-partisan committee. Each of these appointees to the criminal court or family court first undergoes careful scrutiny by an independent body of experienced practitioners, whose sole focus is to select the best.

Those chosen often spend several years or more presiding and learning their trade in the lower courts before being promoted to the supreme court. Fealty to a political organization — or boss — simply has no part in that selection.

The second group, which I will call the “Dinowitz group” — whose names appear on the election day ballot — are chosen by a small cabal of the party leadership, with no independent scrutiny. Although I have been a litigating attorney for well over a half century, I rarely recognize a single candidate from the slate offered each November, in part because few if any of your nominees have attained any recognizable stature as trial attorneys.

Indeed, it is not unusual for those selected by the Dinowitz group to have never tried a case before a jury. Necessarily excluded from any considerations are the hundreds upon hundreds of attorneys from this borough who have earned the respect of their peers and the judiciary throughout the city and beyond.

The mediocrity of the Dinowitz group is well known. Come with me to court one day, when courts are again in session, and you will see the slothful, uneven performance of these public servants who enjoy a minimum of 14 years of job security, virtually immune to effective administrative oversight.

There is, of course, an alternative. Nominees of the Democratic Party in Manhattan have a similar certainty of election as those in the Bronx. There, however, putting the interest of the public at large to the fore, the Manhattan Dems cede a major portion of the selection process to an independent cross-section of representative groups. Interested designees from a score of community and professional organizations — ranging from the Fortune Society to various defense and ethnic bar associations — spend months interviewing every interested candidate.

From that extensive inquiry, a small handful are selected. And, depending on the number of judicial openings, the group forwards the names from whom those nominated will be chosen.

From that small number, the Manhattan Democratic organization will pick an even smaller number, whose names then appear on the November ballot. The contrast in the quality of the candidates chosen in the two counties is palpable.

Adopting a comparative practice will assure that excellence prevails over insider connections. Those selected will no longer be obligated to staff their judicial offices with other party faithful dictated by the Bronx organization. Such independence in the staffing gives promise that talent will prevail over party connections.

If you continue to have the welfare of your constituents as a hallmark of your public service, I urge that you use your powerful positions and provide the necessary leadership to fight for the termination of this shameful judicial selection process.

It is a goal worthy of any reformer.

The author is a former special district attorney in Bronx County, and former chair of the New State Commission of Investigation.

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Eric Seiff,