More than a dozen judicial races in Nassau and Suffolk counties are expected to be uncontested in November because Long Island's major political parties cross-endorsed the same candidates, party slates and election board records show.
The county Republican and Democratic parties agreed to back the nominations of eight state Supreme Court candidates. All Supreme Court candidates will appear on the ballot in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Long Island’s political parties have cross-endorsed many judicial candidates in recent years, prompting criticism that the practice denies voters a choice.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat who often has spoken out against cross-endorsements, last week called it “extraordinary that we allow this blatantly undemocratic and sham process to continue” in races for judgeships and other local offices in New York.
An attorney from Nassau County last year filed a federal lawsuit to end the practice. The case is continuing.
Political party leaders said cross-endorsements put the best candidates from all political persuasions on the bench and ensure one party doesn’t control the courts. The leaders also said all judicial candidates were found qualified by the county bar associations this year.
Suffolk GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia said there were no “backroom deals,” and each party “set aside partisanship to ensure our courts are staffed with experience, transparency, fair-mindedness and integrity.”
In party conventions this month, Nassau Democrats and Republicans awarded Supreme Court nominations to incumbent Justice Randy Sue Marber, a Democrat; Democratic attorney Joseph R. Conway, a former assistant United States Attorney; Democratic District Court Judge Erica Prager; and Republican Gary Knobel, law secretary to state Supreme Court Justice Antonio Brandveen.
In Suffolk, the major parties gave Supreme Court nominations to Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven Town Councilwoman who recently lost a Democratic primary for state Senate; Democrat Derrick Robinson, an acting District Court judge; Timothy Mazzei, a Republican County Court judge; and Kathy Bergmann, a Family Court judge and Independence Party member.
All Nassau political parties also endorsed Lisa A. Cairo for Nassau Family Court judge, according to Bonnie Garone, counsel to the Democratic Commissioner of the Nassau Board of Elections.
Cairo, a managing partner at the Garden City-based law firm Jaspan Schlesinger LLP and the daughter of Nassau GOP Chairman Joe Cairo, is running for a 10-year term.
Knobel initially was nominated for Family Court but declined after he was selected for the Supreme Court race. That allowed Cairo’s daughter to seek the Family Court judgeship.
Also, candidates for 14 County Court, District Court and Family Court judgeships in Nassau and Suffolk have been nominated by the county Democratic, Republican, Independence and Conservative parties, according to county election boards.
In defending such cross-endorsements, Jay Jacobs, state and Nassau Democratic chairman, noted that under the rules of the New York State Unified Court System, candidates cannot campaign on political issues, but only on factors such as their experience and background.
That makes cross-endorsements valuable to voters trying to make choices in the ballot booth, Jacobs said.
“When it’s the judiciary, I will bet a lot of money that, other than the candidates’ mothers, no one knows who’s running or what they’re about,” Jacobs said.
With Candice Ferrette