Appellate Justice James M. Catterson's chances for Republican renomination to a second 14-year term are "uncertain," according to top party officials who failed late Wednesday to hammer out a ticket before Thursday night's party convention in Smithtown.
The Supreme Court nominations will not be formally made until September, but Catterson's fate is already in play because Suffolk GOP leaders bartering over a Family Court and two county court judgeships that also could involve the two Suffolk Supreme Court judgeships, Catterson's and Denise Molia's -- who are up for re-election. The GOP convention is set for Thursday night at the Smithtown Elks Lodge.
"Uncertain is an accurate word," said Anthony Pancella, Babylon GOP chair. "There hasn't been a lot of support for him initially around the room among leaders. . . . He just wasn't warmly embraced."
Before Wednesday's meeting, John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, emphasized there's been no final decisions, noting former Gov. George Pataki and former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato have lobbied him to back Catterson, the son of late Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr.
"It's all up in the air," said LaValle. "I wouldn't say anyone is in trouble, nor would I say that anyone is safe. . . . Everyone has their own horse in this race."
However, several top political officials indicated Catterson's prospects are bleak.
Catterson, 53, of Mount Sinai, first won the nod for his judgeship in 1998, with the help of his father, the often combative prosecutor who died in 2007, and then-Suffolk and Brookhaven GOP chairman John Powell, who died earlier this year.
As a deputy county attorney, Catterson, dubbed "Kitty-Kat" by critics, was a point man for an $18 million car-leasing controversy that was subject to a legislative probe and was later abandoned.Catterson, who has been meeting with party leaders, did not return calls for comment.
Some experts say the political landscape for judges can become treacherous after a lengthy term. "By the time your term runs out, things can change dramatically," said Paul Sabatino, former chief deputy county executive. "Fourteen years later, they don't know who you are and you're an asterisk on a political footnote."
The scrum for the ticket includes Brookhaven Republicans, who are looking to make the town's Democratic Highway Superintendent John Rouse a county court judge. The Babylon GOP and Independence Party back GOP District Court Judge John Iliou for County Court to a seat that will be vacated by retiring County Court Justice James F.X. Doyle, of the Independence Party.
Islip Republicans back former legislative candidate William Garbarino for state Supreme Court and threaten a primary against Rouse, if denied. Meanwhile, Conservatives, according to party sources, are looking to make Rudy Cartier, a law partner of Brookhaven Conservative chairman Ken Auerbach, a Supreme Court nominee.
Republicans also are eyeing the possibility of moving County Court Judge Gary Weber, 68, to state Supreme Court, where he would serve two years until reaching retirement age when the party could run a new candidate, but allow Weber to stay for up to six years under two-year extensions. Some have also raised the prospect of Molia moving down to run for the Family Court judgeship rather than Supreme Court.If denied nomination, Catterson can run primaries in any party, but experts say Supreme Court contenders have to run in both Nassau and Suffolk, a huge undertaking. Another former appellate division justice, Robert Lifson, once Huntington GOP chairman, faced a similar fate in 2008, and state Supreme Court Justice Donald Blydenburgh, once the Suffolk legislature's presiding officer, resigned in 2010 rather than be denied the renomination.