Judicial Fever in Brooklyn

A Democratic Party Loyalist Talks Out of School

According to those who know both men, the relationship between the cousins never recovered. But Michael Garson later got a consolation prize—party backing for a Supreme Court post. Five years later, cousin Gerald joined him there. But even as Gerald Garson was donning his black polyester robes, he continued to be a major influence on Norman's thinking when it came to party nominations for the courts. This was evident in 1997, the same year that Gerald Garson was elected to Supreme Court, when Norman—badly in need of a civil court candidate after his own choice was forced to drop out—-turned to a lawyer in Garson's law firm named Karen Rothenberg.

As James Bradley reported in the Voice that year, the key requirements were that the candidate should be a female attorney with a Jewish name—the proven winning-est combination on a borough-wide ballot—and, most importantly, have the ability to raise at least $100,000 to pay for the race. In a playbook written by the late Brooklyn democratic boss Meade Esposito, the money was to go for highly paid, party-selected political consultants and printers. Those vendors, in turn, made their own large contributions to the party. Gerald Garson's brief stint as an informer began in late March and continued until early last week, when, faced with the likelihood that the Post was about to expose its investigation, the D.A.'s office brought it to a quick end. Two nights before his arrest, Garson called his family together to tell them he was about to be charged. Word from that gathering radiated across political Brooklyn.

Judicial appointments are one of the last strongholds of patronage in New York. Thanks to inter-party cooperation between Democrats and Republicans who divide the available judgeships between them and then cross-designate each other's candidates, the positions amount to virtual lifetime sinecures. In addition there are hundreds of clerks and law secretaries to be selected, posts with similar levels of job security and benefits. It is because of these basic political facts of life that no serious effort has ever been made to reform the way the state's top judges are selected. The Daily News' editorial page has been on a 15-month-long crusade about this issue, hammering especially hard at Norman's Brooklyn. After Hynes's remarkable announcement about his newly convened grand jury, the paper expressed deep skepticism and called for an independent prosecutor.

Yet the News itself was silent last year when Lopez Torres, a former Legal Services attorney, became the first-ever incumbent civil court judge to be denied endorsement by her party and was forced to wage her own campaign for re-election. She apparently wasn't good enough for the crusaders at the Daily News, who declined to endorse her.

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