The high-ceilinged Central Jury Room in the courthouse in Mineola is an odd stop on a political campaign.
But with two sitting judges vying for the Nassau County surrogate judgeship this year, that’s what it’s looked like in recent weeks.
Incumbent Surrogate John B. Riordan, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, state Supreme Court Justice Edward W. McCarty III, are among the judges who take turns giving the welcome-to-jury-duty speech to about 400 potential jurors just about every morning that court is in session.
Riordan, a 1968 St. John’s Law grad, is reserved and soft-spoken. He sits in a chair on the raised dais, reading prepared remarks and turning the pages rhythmically with his left hand.
Both men wear their judicial robes, which is forbidden on the traditional campaign trail by the rules of the NYS Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics.
McCarty, a 1970 St. John’s Law grad, uses a cordless phone and strolls across the front of the room, the raised dais at his back. He speaks off-the-cuff, but his remarks vary little from day to day.
Riordan goes on at length about the duties of the surrogate, tracing the roots of the position back to colonial times. He was in private law practice for 25 years until his election to District Court in 1993, followed by his election as surrogate in 1999. “I served as a member of the East Williston Village Planning Board and the East Williston Volunteer Fire Department,” he says.
McCarty talks about his trips around world trouble spots in his former role as a retired colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps and his duties in Iraq, Kuwait, Albania and Haiti.
He gives out the phone number of his office — judges call it their chambers — and tells jurors to call if he can help them with anything. (He draws the line at fixing the tickets that seem to shower on jurors’ cars in the Garden City area surrounding the courthouse.)
Of the two, McCarty is the best storyteller. And here is his best story, about a time he was a judicial training seminar in Syracuse in 1986:
“Sitting next to me the very first day was a woman, judge, like myself new. She was loud. She was rude, and she was obnoxious. And every time the professor says something in front of the class, she’d say, ‘You’re wrong! You’re wrong! That’s not the answer! That’s not the answer!’”
“In any event, she was not going to be a judge very long because in life and on the bench loud rude and obnoxious does not really work ... Then I read a newspaper story about her. She had just signed a contract for $100 million. Every one of you know her of course. You watch her on TV. Judge Judy.”