The Judge on Row E

A Dissenting Jurist Challenges the Party Bosses

With her was Councilmember David Yassky, who represents Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg and is one of the few elected Democratic officials to endorse her.

"Margarita is a top-quality judge who I would love to see on the bench," Yassky said as he introduced a constituent to López Torres. "Beyond that," he added, "what is at stake here is how we select judges—the good way or the rotten way. Her election would make a powerful statement."

Yassky said the Democrats should adopt the Working Families method of having an independent panel select its judicial candidates. "I think what they did was show us how it should be done," he said.

Trying to send a message: Judge Margarita López Torres (left) and a supporter, city councilmember David Yassky (right) talk up judicial reform in downtown Brooklyn
photo: Cary Conover
Trying to send a message: Judge Margarita López Torres (left) and a supporter, city councilmember David Yassky (right) talk up judicial reform in downtown Brooklyn

Campaigning just a couple of blocks from the courts where she presides, López Torres encountered a steady stream of lawyers. One of them, Eric Poulos, a criminal defense attorney, said he had long been a supporter.

"I met her when I tried a case before her," he said. "I was surprised how civilized and reasonable she was. So many judges run their courtrooms like a jail. She is one of a kind. She doesn't rubber-stamp the authorities, whether they are the city's corporation counsel or the district attorney. She's one of the most independent judges, which is why the machine wanted to get rid of her."

Most observers see López Torres's election as a long shot. The straight-Democratic-ticket voting habits of those who bother to cast ballots in Brooklyn's judicial races are too entrenched to be overcome, they believe. Should she win, however, "it would be pretty amazing," said Assemblyman Jim Brennan, another longtime supporter. "It would mean that it broke through to the general public that a change is needed. It would be a wake-up call to the [Democratic] party's executive committee that they need a significant change in how they're operating."

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