Law & Disorder

The next day, Judge McCabe was there to help out. On Feb. 12, according to the records, McCabe sent $500 to the party, followed by $100 on March 2 and $100 on March 3.

Right around that time, Judge Levine had a radically different agenda. In a Jan. 29, 1999, letter to the Unified Court System's Committee to Promote Public Trust & Confidence in the System, Levine noted that he had urged Jonathan Lippman, the state's chief administrative judge, to prohibit judges, judicial candidates and campaign committees from giving or taking money from attorneys or court-related organizations. "I have said NO TO LAWYERS and court personnel who wanted to contribute to my campaigns," Levine wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Long Island Voice. "I also support the efforts of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the State Bar Association to put an end to campaign contributions that flow from lawyers to elected officials—including judges—in exchange for government work or appointments—especially court-related."

Levine's letter went on to flatly urge that administrators "take politics out of our courts," adding, "Too many political leaders in the state, especially in counties where one party dominates most public offices, have too much control over the selection, appointment and election of judges."

He advocated the system currently in place in Florida, which makes it a crime for judges to take money from political organizations.

Good luck, Sam.

What's in a Name?

Court insiders say that New York court officials will never go for a system of formally appointing judges in the lower courts and then making them stand for retention. In Nassau, the insiders say, it's true that county chairman Mondello controls the current process of informally appointing judges. But in the city, for example, the powerbrokers are Democrats, and they would be unwilling, to say the least, to give up their power just so the Nassau Democrats could cut into Mondello's authority.

Besides, Levine's official title as "president of the Board of Judges" actually carries little weight, according to the Office of Court Administration. Mai Yee, a spokeswoman for the OCA, says of Levine's job title: "Anachronistic is probably the right word for it." She says that when the Unified Court System was set up in 1977 to try to make some sense out of New York's Colonial-era judiciary, it took over court administration. McCabe, the county's administrative judge, and Wexner, the supervising judge, have the real authority—even if they don't have the nice office that Levine is about to hand over to Raab.

So if Raab wants to reclaim the original duties of his new office, he'll need help from people like DiNapoli. But the Democratic boss is noncommittal. "I'm sure I'll be talking to Ira about it," he says.

DiNapoli, however, isn't talking tough. "There are so many more Democrats [in judgeships] that, by definition, there's an increase in authority," he says. "And the judges have had very cooperative relations with McCabe—the court system tends to be more collegial."

Nothing, though, was more collegial than the fundraising letter the machine's lawyers sent out last summer, when they were brimming with confidence that their pal, former Mondello aide Denise Sher, would win the job of First District Court judge. Not even thinking that Raab would beat Sher, the letter noted that the job "also holds the responsibilities of Supervising Judge of the District Court."

Tell it to the judge.

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