The position of Surrogate Court’s judge is an important but little-understood and typically low-profile job. That latter part is not so true this year in Suffolk County, thanks to a unprincipled candidate-selection process that offended anyone who believes in fair elections.
The surrogate in each county serves a 10-year term, oversees the processing of wills and appoints an executor when one does not exist. The surrogate also appoints guardians for minors or incapacitated adults. These are lucrative assignments for lawyers, and in handing them out, surrogates must be independent from party bosses on whose lines they ran for election, bosses who also are seeking jobs for party stalwarts.
This year’s race for Suffolk surrogate is the poster child for the necessity of changing to some form of nonpartisan, merit-based method of selecting judges in New York.
The Democratic candidate is Theresa Whelan, 56, a Family Court judge from Wading River. She also has the Conservative and Independence lines. Whelan got her party’s nod after a three-party cross-endorsement deal for nine judicial races blew up. That happened when Republican Tara A. Scully, 41, a Setauket attorney, exposed the sham behind the selection of District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, a Conservative and the wife of Suffolk Conservative chairman Frank Tinari, as the Democratic nominee. Scully did so by petitioning her way onto both the Republican and Democratic lines.
Tinari withdrew, Democratic boss Rich Schaffer replaced her with Whelan, and the Independence and Conservative parties fell in line. So the deal was still intact, just the names rearranged. Scully, who lost the Democratic primary, is on the GOP line.
Whelan, in her interview with the editorial board, refused to condemn or dissociate herself from the selection process. That’s worrisome, and it makes us question her ability to dissociate herself from the interests of the party that chose her, despite her promise to do so.
Scully, also running on the Green and Reform party lines, practices in Surrogate Court. She knows the law, and has the empathy needed to deal with the difficult and heartbreaking cases heard there. Whelan does, too. But Scully has less baggage.
Newsday endorses Scully.
— The editorial board