Suffolk Conservative head seeks judgeships

Edward Walsh, Conservative Party chairman, at his East

Edward Walsh, Conservative Party chairman, at his East Islip home. (Sept. 30, 2006) (Credit: Newsday Photo, 2006 / Daniel Goodrich)

Rick Brand

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Until last week, Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello was expecting to name eight of 10 candidates for State Supreme Court on Long Island in his judicial convention this week and get backing from the Conservative Party.

However, Suffolk's upstart Conservative chairman Edward Walsh has other ideas.

Those who know Walsh, an imposing Suffolk correction officer, say Mondello may be in for culture shock.

"I think it will be an eye-opening experience," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "When you're dealing with a 6-foot-6 figure like Eddie, the question answers itself. He's no shrinking violet."

Of the 10 Supreme Court judgeships up for election in November, Nassau Republicans have four incumbent judges, including one Conservative, Bruce Cousins from Mineola. They also want cross-endorsement for other Republican judicial hopefuls, including the son-in-law of former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, Jerome Murphy of Island Park, according to sources.

According to party sources, Walsh wants two of the open seats to be Conservatives from Suffolk. The minor-party chairman said he has spoken to Mondello twice, but nothing has been settled and he declined to spell out what he wants. A spokesman for Mondello confirmed conversations have taken place but said talks have been "very general."

However, party sources say Walsh's top choices would be Court of Claims Judge Joseph Pastoressa of Smithtown; Suffolk's top homicide prosecutor John Collins, a registered Conservative from Blue Point; and Matthew Hughes, Pastoressa's law clerk from Huntington.

"Rest assured, I'm pushing for Conservative judges from my county," said Walsh, noting that currently Nassau has 26 Supreme Court judges to Suffolk's 21, even though Suffolk has a larger population and caseload. Walsh also said he intends to sit down with Democratic and Independence Party officials for a possible cross-endorsement deal.

The elections for State Supreme Court judge are unusual because they are the only races decided on an Islandwide basis. And like all Supreme Court races statewide, they are the only regular elections for which there is no provision for primaries -- meaning the choice is solely in the hands of party leaders.

What makes Walsh's play even rarer is that minor-party leaders in one county do not usually wrangle with major-party leaders in another county or try to realign the number of judicial candidates from one county to the other. Up to now, the unwritten protocol has been that candidates for each judgeship come from the same county as the outgoing judge.

Dan Donovan, the Nassau Conservative chairman, said he was unaware of Walsh's push and expressed concern it could affect Cousins: "I don't know why he'd do that because it could hurt us."

Yet Walsh may have the clout to pull off his bid because he controls 29 of his party convention's judicial delegates while the Nassau Conservatives only have 19. And the Conservative line is crucial to any party. Supreme Court judges last year tallied 66,000 votes on the Conservative line -- 40,000 in Suffolk and 26,000 in Nassau.

Frank MacKay, state and Suffolk Independence Party chairman, said Walsh has "incredible leverage" to get his way. "The problem for Republicans is that no Democratic Supreme Court candidate has ever lost, once they got the Conservative line," said MacKay, a frequent Walsh ally.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau and state Democratic chairman, said he "looks forward to talking directly" with Walsh. Jacobs has a lot of latitude to share nominations because he has no incumbents for any of the eight judgeships.

Walsh's effort does not affect the Suffolk GOP. He has already promised John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, that he would back Suffolk GOP incumbent Paul Baisley of Huntington and Babylon District Court Judge Joseph Santorelli for Supreme Court.

The deadline for deal making, however, is short. The Republicans' judicial convention is set for Thursday at Levittown Town Hall in Hicksville; Democrats are meeting Tuesday at the Plainview Holiday Inn. Conservatives and the Independence parties are holding their conventions on the last day possible -- Sept. 26.

"Everybody wants to sit down and talk to us," Walsh said. "And I'm ready to talk to everyone."