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OpinionEditorial

Backroom deals for judgeships insult voters

The surrogate’s position is an important job for the residents of the county, but for party bosses, it’s a soft-serve machine of patronage.

Rich Schaffer, Suffolk County Democratic Party leader and

Rich Schaffer, Suffolk County Democratic Party leader and Babylon Town supervisor. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Candidate for judge of Suffolk Surrogate’s Court. Immediate opening. Dream job for an experienced attorney with a passion for helping those in need. Salary starts at $208,000. Perks abound. Ten-year term, or until age 70. Location: Riverhead. Preference for applicants with a backbone to resist pressure from political bosses to reward cronies and donors with big fees.

 

Another election year, another deal by Suffolk County Democratic Party leader Rich Schaffer and the leaders of the local Conservative and Independence parties that will deprive voters of real choices. Schaffer has cut a cross-endorsement deal with the minor parties for nine judgeships.

That’s how Marian Rose Tinari, who has been a District Court judge for barely three years and is the wife of Conservative Party chairman Frank Tinari, was promised the Democratic designation as candidate for surrogate judge. Schaffer’s promise will hold unless Tinari is defeated in a party primary this September. Challengers will have to file petitions by July 12.

The surrogate’s position is an important job for the residents of the county, but for party bosses, it’s a soft-serve machine of patronage. The job is coveted because the surrogate has the power to assign lucrative legal work, such as handling the processing of wills and guardianships, and cases involving the estates of people who have died or those incapable of taking care of their own needs.

The office has been held by Republicans for more than a century. The current surrogate, John Czygier, will soon meet the mandatory retirement age.

Edward Walsh, the prodigal Suffolk Conservative party leader who no longer holds the formal title and is now in federal prison for wire fraud and theft of government services, must be delighted that his ambitious plan to snatch the surrogate prize will be executed even though he is still behind bars.

The nine-judgeship deal also means Democrats will endorse two other conservatives, including Paul Hensley, a former District Court judge trying to get back on the bench after losing his seat in 2014. Republicans refused to renominate him after he was reprimanded by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for attending illegal poker games, including one raided by the police.

Schaffer has long defended his deals with minor parties as the best way to ensure that his Democratic candidates win. Republican Party leaders also have engaged in deal-making to snare minor-party lines for their candidates.

The charade here is that the minor parties don’t really stand for any guiding principles. The local Conservative Party long ago traded its ideological moorings for public payroll jobs. With these deals, it is now presenting itself as ideologically to the left of the Republican Party. The Independence Party’s biggest accomplishment is tricking voters into thinking it is independent of ideological alignments instead of a just another flea on the taxpayer’s back.

Some lawyers and judges who would like to run for surrogate are afraid of the political payback if they do. Still, there must be someone willing to step up. Judicial nominees don’t have to be registered members of the party line they seek to run on.

Winning might be elusive, but standing up for democratic principles should provide its own satisfactions. 

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