Brookhaven District Court Judge Vincent Martorana by political magic has become a full-fledged state Supreme Court justice, without having to win what is normally an elected judgeship.
Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June named Martorana, a Republican, as a Supreme Court justice on an interim basis — an appointment that officially lasts only until year’s end. And the Republican-controlled State Senate, in the legislative session’s waning hours last month, ratified his elevation four days before his 70th birthday, which was June 24.
The appointment raises Martorana’s salary from $193,500 a year to $208,000 a year. More important, it could extend his judicial career by up to six years. While District, County and Family Court judges must retire when they turn 70, Martorana, as a new state Supreme Court justice, is permitted to seek certification from the state’s chief administrative judge to serve up to three two-year stints.
Martorana’s appointment is a political quirk of state Supreme Court. It’s the only New York elected court where no primaries are permitted and political leaders control nominations, which occur in mid-September.
“It’s musical chairs to the nth degree, and voters wind up with no seat at the table to decide who becomes a judge,” said Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive.
Martorana declined to be interviewed. But in a statement he said he was “honored” to be appointed and confirmed, and that he intended “to serve in my position to the best of my abilities.”
Promotions such as Martorana’s, while rare, are not unprecedented. For instance, Huntington District Court Judge Martin Efman, who was an acting County Court judge, was elevated in 2013 to state Supreme Court when he reached 70. Efman is completing his third and final extension this year.
Martorana, first elected in 2012 and in his second term as a District Court judge, is officially filling a Supreme Court vacancy in the upstate 7th judicial district that includes Steuben and Ontario Counties and the Finger Lakes region.
However, Martorana, of Holbrook, will preside in a civil courtroom in Riverhead. At year’s end, the vacancy will return upstate and be filled by a judicial candidate yet to be named who will be nominated in September and elected in November. If certified, Martorana will keep working in Suffolk.
Martorana ran for Supreme Court in 2003 but came in fifth of nine candidates in a race where four judgeships were available.
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant mainly for Republicans who is active in judicial races, said he’s had lawyers ask him how Martorana made the recent leap.
“As far as I can detect, it didn’t come out of Suffolk County,” Dawidziak said. “But it's not a bad thing; it keeps another judge working at a time when there is concern over heavy caseloads.”
Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP chair, said he played no role in Martorana’s ascent, but said Martorana has a “great legal mind and will be a fair judge.”
Several political sources say Brooklyn Democratic chairman Frank Seddio played a behind-the-scenes role in the appointment. George Arzt, spokesman for the Brooklyn Democratic Committee, declined say what, if any role, Seddio played.
“He’s an old friend and neighbor originally from Canarsie,” Arzt said of Martorana. “Even though a Republican, Frank is thrilled he got the judgeship and believes he’ll do a great job.”
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he had nothing to do with Martorana’s promotion, although the Republican judge came to speak to him last February about the idea. Of Martorana’s new job, Schaffer laughed: “For him, it’s better than hitting Lotto.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated when Cuomo named Martorana as a Supreme Court justice.