Judges, Deserving and Otherwise; Getting Rid of Bad Ones
The New York Times - Editorial - May 15, 2005
While there are many good judges in New York State, there are a few bad judges, and getting rid of them is not easy. Very rarely does the Commission on Judicial Conduct decide to remove a jurist from the bench. One of those rare cases involved Michael Feinberg, a Surrogate's Court judge in Brooklyn, who was suspended earlier this year. Now, because of a strange quirk in the law, the choice of Mr. Feinberg's successor could be left to the same Brooklyn Democratic Party boss who picked Judge Feinberg to run for the post in the first place, Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr. The commission held that Judge Feinberg awarded millions of dollars in ''excessive'' legal fees to a friend he had appointed to deal with the estates of those who died without leaving a will. Judge Feinberg has appealed, and the New York Court of Appeals has agreed to hear arguments on June 9.
The timing of the court's decision is important, especially because this is an election year. If it rules against Judge Feinberg, but does so between July 7 and Aug. 8, the power to choose his successor essentially remains with Brooklyn's party leaders. During that one month, Mr. Norman's party can pick a candidate to run for the surrogate's seat in November as a Democrat, and because it is a Democratic area, that person will almost certainly be elected. If the decision comes before midnight July 7, there would be time to organize a primary with, conceivably, more than one candidate. After Aug. 8, the governor chooses the successor, who would serve until elections next year. The commission's decision to remove Judge Feinberg sent the right message to patronage judges in Brooklyn and elsewhere: you can no longer hire your friends and cheat the system and expect the political powers to shield you. But if the appeals court turns around and hands the power to choose a judge back to the very people who appointed Judge Feinberg in the first place, it will send exactly the opposite message: that politics, once again, trumps justice in New York State.