MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some call it the last bastion of the political patronage pie — the doling out judgeships across the state.
Voters go to the polls, but have no impact on the outcome.
Jacqueline Franchetti garnered a nearly unprecedented 3,000 votes last week as a write-in candidate for Supreme Court judge on Long Island. She tried, unsuccessfully, to block the promotion of a Family Court judge.
One of those write-in votes came from Sea Cliff homeowner Michael Schmitt.
“It’s a very corrupt system,” Schmitt told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan, adding, “You have eight people running for eight judgeships, so they are all guaranteed to win.”
Franchetti wanted voters to know the judge who presided in her custody case allowed her daughter, Kyra, despite objections, unsupervised visits with her father, who murdered the toddler.
Franchetti said she didn’t want the judge blindly rewarded.
“We have no information about these judges. Who vetted them? What do they stand for?” Franchetti said. “These are people who are going to serve for 14-year terms.”
Supreme Court candidates are not permitted to campaign on the issues. So before election season, Democratic, Republican, and Conservative party leaders cross-endorsed judges. The outcomes were preordained.
James Gardner, a professor at University at Buffalo School of Law, calls this state-wide practice “deplorable.”
“That system of party competition has been subverted by the parties through collusion, so that the actual decision is not made by the people; it’s made by party leaders,” Gardner said.
Supporters say cross-endorsements assure solid candidates so that no one party controls the courts. They must go before the state Bar Association.
“This is a system that I know has its critics, but really takes into account a way to make a fairer, balanced judiciary. It should be, and is, non-political,” state Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs said.
Do they earn their positions on merit or is party loyalty rewarded?
Some other countries and states avoid direct election of judges, fearing a quagmire that could lead to corruption.
Thirteen percent of Long Islanders refused to vote for any Supreme Court judges last week due to the predetermined slate of winners.