In Brooklyn, A Rare Contest for Civil Court Judge

Jim Henderson

The Supreme and Family Court Building in Brooklyn.

Usually picking your civil court judge is easy: the instructions say to pick five candidates, and a roster of five candidates running on your party line is there ready and waiting for you. Traditionally, these are the candidates nominated by the borough party executive committee.

Not so in Brooklyn this year. 11 candidates are running for just five civil court judge positions. Five of them have been officially endorsed by the Kings County Democratic Party. Another five have been assembled on an alternative slate by journalist and political operative Gary Tilzer. An eleventh is running on her own.

Tilzer told the Village Voice he assembled his roster by asking friends of friends for suggested candidates. His main aim is to expose the patronage within the Democratic Party—”how the county organization just picks judges and how the public doesn’t have any say.” According to the Voice, his argument has merit: “Any young attorney who aspires to the bench knows that getting active in the local political club and sending donations to party-favored candidates or the machine’s housekeeping account is a prerequisite to getting ahead,” writes the Voice’s Ross Barkan——though Democratic Party activists strongly disagree and say the races are always open.

Four of the five candidates on the alternative slate also boycotted the Democratic Party’s Judicial Screening Committee test. Candidate John O’Hara argues that the test is another instance of corruption, with lawyers on the committee expecting favors from the judges they deem fit, though the lawyers deny that’s the case. The same four also boycotted the Brooklyn Bar Association’s screening test. The five party-packed candidates as well as alternative slate candidate Isiris Isela Isaac participated in both tests, and were all deemed qualified in both. The last candidate, Ellen Edwards, was deemed “Not Approved” by the Brooklyn…

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