The Man Who Couldn't Be Judge

Political Parties Divide Judicial Spoils in Queens

It is particularly troubling, added Hunter, in the case of a district such as the one Suraci sought to represent, which, he said, is "quite capable of electing a Republican."

The Queens GOP handles judicial nominations in the same closed-door method that has disturbed reformers and prosecutors in Brooklyn: The county leader, in this case, Maltese, sends names of candidates to be interviewed to a screening panel. Frank Kenna, whose family has been active in the Queens GOP for generations and who heads the screening panel for Republican judicial candidates, said he received Seminerio-Culley's name from Maltese. Currently legal secretary to the county's administrative law judge, Seminerio-Culley appeared before the panel and was quickly approved. She was the only candidate interviewed. "I know Joe Suraci," said Kenna. "I know he has run occasionally, but I did not know he wanted to run this time. I never got his name."

Like Hunter, Kenna agreed that the party could win the Civil Court seat in the Third District. "It was a winnable seat," said Kenna, except that Seminerio-Culley carried one clear advantage: her name. "Could a Republican beat a Seminerio? I doubt it. Her father is one of us. We consider him one of our own."

Joseph Suraci: a Republican locked out of a Civil Court candidacy by his party
photo: Joshua Farley
Joseph Suraci: a Republican locked out of a Civil Court candidacy by his party

Maltese makes no bones about his friendship with Seminerio. "He told me early on his daughter wanted to run," he said. "She went through the panel and she was accepted. End of story." The county leader said he had no idea Suraci had any interest in running until recently. But it wouldn't have mattered, he added.

"Yes, it's a local district race that a Republican would have a chance to win, if he had some visibility. Joe has none and he obviously doesn't have the confidence of his district leaders," said Maltese.

Like Brooklyn, Queens is not unique in picking judges based on connections rather than ability. Judges are made the same way in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island as well. "Nobody challenges any of this," said Suraci. "A lot of people are afraid to criticize, that their own political aspirations will be hurt if they do so. It will just go on forever unless someone does."

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