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OpinionEditorial

Suffolk Democrats play politics with local judgeships

Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer in Hauppague

Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer in Hauppague in 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The mockery of judicial selection by Suffolk County Democrats, aided and abetted by the ideologically bankrupt Conservative and Independence parties, gets even more unseemly with each new deal.

On Thursday, the latest rigging of the system was unveiled as Democrats held a nominating convention for state Supreme Court judicial candidates. It’s the latest three-card monte game of Suffolk County party chair Rich Schaffer, who plays voters as suckers.

On Thursday night, Schaffer turned over three of four prized state Supreme Court judgeships to Conservative Party insiders. The three are District Court Judge Marian Tinari, Family Court Judge Deborah Poulos and Michael Gajdos, vice-chair of the Islip Conservative committee. And Conservatives got a cash-back reward on the fourth seat, too, even though it actually went to a Democrat, George Nolan, counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature.

George’s brother, Phil Nolan, the president of Suffolk County Off-Track Betting, recently had his arm twisted to hire Michael Torres, former leader of the Islip Conservatives, for an easy $65,000 job. That was about the time that George Nolan’s name got floated for the judgeship. Torres and Gajdos are tight with Edward Walsh, the former Conservative Party boss who is in federal prison for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money by pretending to work at the Suffolk jail. A con is still conning, about judges no less, while sitting behind bars.

The Conservatives got the Supreme Court honey pot this year because an earlier deal blew up. Originally, Schaffer offered the Democratic ballot line for Surrogate’s Court judge, the ultimate patronage plum, to Tinari, the wife of the Conservative Party leader, Frank Tinari. However, when Tara Scully, a Republican, gathered petitions to force a Democratic primary and expose the deal, Marian Tinari balked. Schaffer then picked Family Court Judge Theresa Whelan for the Democratic ballot line, and she won the primary over Scully last week.

As that drama played out, the Conservatives nominated Poulos as a placeholder Surrogate’s Court candidate. Schaffer said he expects the Conservatives to ultimately give their ballot line to Whelan, as will the Independence Party. And that will give Whelan a big edge over Scully in the general election.

But Poulos is not the usual party flunky who keeps a ballot line warm, only to later disappear. She is a Family Court judge who should at least hold out the appearance of independence. What promises were made to her by Schaffer and Tinari to entice her to manipulate the system? What was her understanding of the deal? Anyone who can issue a subpoena in New York might want to find out — say, a district attorney, the state attorney general, even the U.S. attorney. At least the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct should have a few questions for Poulos.

Should voters give a compromised Poulos the reward of a 14-year term with an annual salary of $208,000? She is a shining example of how minor parties are corrupting our judicial-selection system.

Until something changes, this cynical charade by party bosses will continue to stain the impartiality of judges and perpetuate a lackluster bench. The time has come for nonpartisan, merit-based judicial selection in New York. — The editorial board

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