Monday, January 30, 2006
TWO JUDICIAL SCREENERS RESIGN
BENJAMIN SMITH, Staff Reporter of the Sun, May 7, 2003
In another sign of weakness from the embattled Brooklyn Democratic Party, two members of a panel that selects Brooklyn judges quit yesterday.
Lawyers Barry Kamins and George Farkas quietly resigned from the judicial screening panel yesterday, after the second panel-approved judge was charged with taking bribes to fix cases.
The resignations come after state and federal investigations into the place of money in the courthouse.
The 16-member panel, composed of lawyers close to Brooklyn Democratic chief Clarence Norman, typically recommends judges who are members in good standing with the party organization; the party's subsequent endorsement plays a crucial role in the low-profile judicial elections that follow.
Last summer, Justice Victor Barron pleaded guilty to bribery charges, and the Brooklyn district attorney charged Justice Gerald Garson in a similar case last month.
"If people feel that whatever is going on in there is bad enough that you don't want to be associated with it, then that smells," said Council Member David Yassky, a Brooklyn Democrat in the borough's "reform" faction. "This is a sign that pressure for reform is building and a sign that progress may be made sooner than we might have thought."
The executive director of the Brooklyn party, Jeffrey Feldman, declined to give a reason for the two lawyers' resignations, and said they would be replaced after the panel has finished its business for this year. "The panel is in the middle of the process," Mr. Feldman said.
Mr. Farkas and Mr. Kamins could not be reached for comment. Mr. Kamins, who represented Justice Barron in his bribery trial, is also a fund-raiser for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who is investigating the judicial selection process.
"They just got cold feet from all the press," said one Brooklyn Democrat. They resigned without any formal letter, he said. "These are not letter-writers."
Other members of the panel include Mr. Feldman and Ravi Batra, a lawyer who is a law partner of Mr. Norman, the county Democratic chairman.
Brooklyn reformers recently wrote Mr. Norman calling for replacing the screening panel with a board system similar to the one used in Manhattan. There, independent lawyers' groups suggest panel members. Other officials have pushed for replacing judicial elections with appointive judgeships.
But Brooklyn's Democrats are clinging to their courthouse privileges, as the courthouse is one of the last sources of power, and money, for local party organizations.
Judicial elections give the local parties a large say in judicial selection, and judges can steer lucrative appointments to party lawyers.
The Brooklyn party remains weaker than its rivals in Queens and the Bronx, however, and last year a judge who spurned party requests to reward a Democratic loyalist with a job as her clerk won despite the organization's endorsement of her rival.
"I think the screening panel has to work on building public trust and confidence, something that is lacking now," that judge, Margarita Lopez-Torres, said yesterday.