Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/queens-democratic-party 2018-09-23T01:13:00+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Assembly Race Poses Another Test for Queens Machine 2018-07-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7805:assembly-race-poses-another-test-for-queens-machine Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/catalina_cruz_parade.jpg" alt="catalina cruz parade Queens" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Catalina Cruz (photo: @CatalinaCruzNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley last month in New York’s 14th congressional district sent shockwaves throughout the country and signalled a monumental shift in Queens politics, where the Crowley-led county party has held significant sway in local elections for many years. The effects of Ocasio-Cortez’s win and Crowley’s loss, both nationally and locally, are still developing, but reverberations are certainly being felt in the already-competitive Democratic primary for New York Assembly District 39, where a county-backed incumbent is facing an independent challenger.</p> <p>The district -- part of the 150-seat lower house of the state Legislature, all of which are on the ballot this fall, first in September 13 primaries -- covers the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, and large parts of those fall within Crowley’s congressional district. It is currently represented by Assembly Member Ari Espinal, who was elected in a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/Elections/2018/Special/April242018SpecialElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">low-turnout special election</a> barely three months ago, with fewer than 800 votes. Espinal was previously an aide to Francisco Moya, who held the Assembly seat before being elected to the New York City Council last year.</p> <p>Espinal’s challenger in the primary is Catalina Cruz, an attorney with government experience who most recently served as chief of staff to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.</p> <p>Espinal, whose cousin is Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Epsinal, ran unopposed for the Assembly seat, having been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, which is chaired by Crowley and has played an influential role in not just Queens, but city and state elections for decades, as well as the selection of the powerful City Council speaker and a variety of other appointed positions. For a special election to the state Legislature, there are no party primaries, instead the party county committee selects its candidate for what is a singular public vote. In a heavily Democratic district like most in New York City, the party’s nominee is virtually &nbsp;assured victory in a special election, and therefore gains at least some of the benefits of incumbency ahead of any subsequent intra-party challenges.</p> <p>But the power of the Queens County Democrats’ endorsement is under question following Crowley’s landslide defeat to Ocasio-Cortez as he finishes his tenth term in the House. Queens Democratic insiders say Cruz is in important ways a stronger candidate than Espinal and that the Queens county machine -- a descriptor some take issue with -- is playing a minimal role in the race and has a far less threatening presence in the immediate aftermath of last month’s election. Some also point to the fact that the Queens county party has been defeated in a number of elections over the years by strong insurgent candidates, such as the victories of current City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Ferreras-Copeland’s first win. Moya, meanwhile, helped orchestrate Espinal’s ascension and is actively campaigning on her behalf in an area where he has won several recent elections.</p> <p>For her part, Espinal is confident about the race. “I welcome any challenge,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m from Corona, Queens. I was raised in this neighborhood. I welcome any challenge and it’s exciting. I feel like it’s the Democratic process, too. Why wouldn’t you want a challenge? You would want your voters to get engaged. This is how they get engaged more when they have to pick, to choose and say, ‘Who’s going to represent me the way I want to be represented?’”</p> <p>Having been in office just under three months, Espinal has been prime sponsor on one bill that was passed by both legislative chambers, to extend a labor law relating to unemployment insurance proceedings, and another, called Carlos’ Law, which enacts punishments for developers that put workers at risk of injury or death, which passed only the Assembly. Espinal has also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to her community, she said. She signed on to the Dream Act, which aims to provide state financial aid to undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. She’s received support for her reelection bid from Moya, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano, and the Working Families Party.</p> <p>Espinal is relying on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader, promising voters that she will bring resources back to her community. She has pledged to fight for immigrant protections, affordable housing, school funding, small businesses, and workers rights, and other locally-important issues. And she pushed back against the notion that she is the establishment candidate in the race. “Quite so often you have politicians who are not from the area and just want to run for office because they just want the power. I’m not looking for the power,” she said. “What I’m looking for is to actually engage my community and tell them, ‘I’m here. I’m here for you because I’ve lived here and I know the issues...because I’m your neighbor.’”</p> <p>Cruz, Espinal’s opponent, strikes a similar chord with her campaign pitch. “My entire life is a spectrum of the people of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst,” she said in a phone interview. But one thing that sets her far apart from Espinal is that Cruz herself is a “Dreamer,” a child of undocumented immigrants who came to New York at the age of nine and who only recently gained permanent resident status in 2009. “I went from being an undocumented child who picked cans in the street with her mom to survive, to being a Dreamer who was going to undergrad and paying for school for herself to a working poor lawyer...to being a middle-class New Yorker, which is basically the spectrum of the people who are here in our community,” she said.</p> <p>After graduating law school and working as a housing attorney, Cruz joined the Attorney General’s office, then headed by Andrew Cuomo, before he was elected governor. Cruz served afterwards in the Department of Labor as counsel in the division of immigrant affairs. She worked with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- who has endorsed her -- to write the legislation that kicked ICE agents off Rikers Island. She also returned to working for Cuomo, heading up his Exploited Workers Task Force, after which she joined Council Member Ferreras-Copeland’s staff. Her former boss has endorsed her, as have Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin.</p> <p>“We’re a people-driven campaign,” Cruz said of her approach to the race. “We start with people and we end with people. We start with the idea that all of our policies should be informed by people.” Though her policy platform largely resembles Espinal’s, Cruz says she sets herself apart by virtue of her independence, experience, her focus on the residents of the district who cannot vote, and her pledge to refuse corporate and luxury developer money (the latter a promise like one made by Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Crowley for the large corporate donations he received).</p> <p>“We are running a campaign that’s very much driven by people that live in the district and we’re independent from any ties to a political organization,” Cruz said.</p> <p>Those ties or the lack thereof may not be determinative in the Assembly race that does again put the power of the Queens County Democrats in the spotlight, observers who spoke with Gotham Gazette said. One former Assembly candidate from Queens said the path to victory lies in a robust ground game and organization. “You knock on enough doors, you meet enough people, and you raise enough money, and the barriers to entry are very low,” the former candidate said. “How many people are gonna vote in an Assembly race? A few thousand? How much money do you need to raise for an assembly race? $100,000? How many doors are you gonna knock on?...You put your walking shoes on and you can do it. So I think party power is very limited and Ari and Catalina will win or lose on the strengths of their own organic, local operation.”</p> <p>Democratic insiders pointed out that the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement comes with political validation but not necessarily the resources to bolster a campaign, such as funding or boots on the ground. It’s why they disputed the characterization of the county party as a machine that can determine the course of campaigns. The party does, however, pressure potential contenders against considering a challenge to an incumbent and often brings with its endorsement a slew of loyal elected officials who coalesce around the county’s candidate and use their own resources and networks to boost them. The party also has connections at the Board of Elections and often attempts to knock challengers off the ballot and at times activates a network of district leaders and county committee members to help with ballot petition signature-gathering, door-knocking, and flyering.</p> <p>“It seems like [Cruz] has real momentum and...everyone’s going to attest the strength of her campaign to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but I think the reality of it is the dynamics of that race were shaped well before the congressional race,” said a Queens Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous to discuss things freely.</p> <p>“I think people have an impression of the Queens county organization as a faulty machine,” the operative said, insisting that a loss by a county-backed candidate did not mean the so-called machine is faltering. “I think the reality is that’s not what the organization is...In my experience, they support somebody and their support will provide the significant assistance of validation from other elected officials. That’s very helpful...but it was never designed to overcome bad campaigns or great opposing candidates.”</p> <p>If the incumbent candidate backed by the Queens Democrats loses to an independent challenger, the optics are far from ideal coming so close on the heels of Crowley’s loss. But the county has invested little in the race, said another Democratic insider from Queens who knows both Espinal and Cruz and who decried the term “machine” as a “loaded expression” for a county party that simply tries to elect its own members to office.</p> <p>But the Queens county organization is undoubtedly powerful. The “machine” moniker stems from the fact that the party holds sway over more than just candidate endorsements -- its backing often also means a candidate will not receive a primary challenger. The county organization selects judicial nominees, and allies of Crowley <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made hefty profits</a> from being appointed as guardians in Surrogate’s Court. The party’s executive secretary is Michael Reich, whose partner Gerard Sweeney in the law firm Sweeney, Reich and Bolz, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Surrogate’s Court business. The county also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">selects one of the ten commissioners on the New York City Board of Elections</a>, who decide which candidates qualify to appear on the ballot.</p> <p>The City Council speaker’s race has more often than not also been decided by the influence of the Queens and Bronx county parties; Council central staffers are frequently picked from the county’s ranks; and Council committee chairs are influenced by county allegiances. And though Crowley may no longer represent the House next year, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/joe-crowley-queens-machine-democratic-chairman.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported</a> that he’s expected to be reelected county chair by district leaders for another two-year term in September. The county organization did not return a request for comment for this article about its support for Espinal.</p> <p>“I don’t think it would be a fair characterization to say this is a test of the county organization because I’m not sure they have all hands on deck for this one,” the insider said. The insider insisted that neither candidate needs the county party’s help to win the race, which would be won on the merits of their candidacies, and that Crowley’s fall is more likely to have an effect on the state Senate District 13 race, where Jessica Ramos is challenging Senator Jose Peralta, formerly of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which empowered Republicans. “I don’t think the Catalina-Ari race is affected by the Crowley result as much,” the insider said. “I just don’t get the sense that that changed everything...They weren’t dependent on Crowley for the win. Peralta was kinda depending on the county guys propping him up, keeping him strong and I feel like that has turned and now Ramos, if I had to bet, will win that race.”</p> <p>Cruz herself drew a parallel with Ocasio-Cortez’s win, noting that voters turned out in higher numbers for the progressive challenger than Crowley in his own backyard, which encompasses large parts of the Assembly district, to vote out the incumbent. “[Ocasio-Cortez] believed in the everyday person and the everyday person believed in her so much that they went out and overwhelmingly voted for her,” she said. “And that’s where we find ourselves, in the exact same situation.”</p> <p>But even she denied that she was poking the bear through her candidacy. “I wouldn’t call it testing their power because I never said I’m running against the machine,” Cruz said. “I’ve always said I’m running for the people. We have an organization that was just shown what people powered campaigns can do and we’re about to show them a second time.”</p> <p>If anything, the race may show that the Queens party’s once-coveted support has turned sour, seen by some as a signal of establishment politics that has been too out of touch with regular voters. “I think it definitely suffered,” said the Democratic insider of the county party’s endorsement. “It’s very raw and very recent, the whole Joe thing...I don’t know if this is a permanent problem or just a temporary one. But the timing right now is bad for those people.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/catalina_cruz_parade.jpg" alt="catalina cruz parade Queens" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>Catalina Cruz (photo: @CatalinaCruzNY)</p> <hr /> <p>Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley last month in New York’s 14th congressional district sent shockwaves throughout the country and signalled a monumental shift in Queens politics, where the Crowley-led county party has held significant sway in local elections for many years. The effects of Ocasio-Cortez’s win and Crowley’s loss, both nationally and locally, are still developing, but reverberations are certainly being felt in the already-competitive Democratic primary for New York Assembly District 39, where a county-backed incumbent is facing an independent challenger.</p> <p>The district -- part of the 150-seat lower house of the state Legislature, all of which are on the ballot this fall, first in September 13 primaries -- covers the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, and large parts of those fall within Crowley’s congressional district. It is currently represented by Assembly Member Ari Espinal, who was elected in a <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/Elections/2018/Special/April242018SpecialElectionResults.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">low-turnout special election</a> barely three months ago, with fewer than 800 votes. Espinal was previously an aide to Francisco Moya, who held the Assembly seat before being elected to the New York City Council last year.</p> <p>Espinal’s challenger in the primary is Catalina Cruz, an attorney with government experience who most recently served as chief of staff to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.</p> <p>Espinal, whose cousin is Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Epsinal, ran unopposed for the Assembly seat, having been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, which is chaired by Crowley and has played an influential role in not just Queens, but city and state elections for decades, as well as the selection of the powerful City Council speaker and a variety of other appointed positions. For a special election to the state Legislature, there are no party primaries, instead the party county committee selects its candidate for what is a singular public vote. In a heavily Democratic district like most in New York City, the party’s nominee is virtually &nbsp;assured victory in a special election, and therefore gains at least some of the benefits of incumbency ahead of any subsequent intra-party challenges.</p> <p>But the power of the Queens County Democrats’ endorsement is under question following Crowley’s landslide defeat to Ocasio-Cortez as he finishes his tenth term in the House. Queens Democratic insiders say Cruz is in important ways a stronger candidate than Espinal and that the Queens county machine -- a descriptor some take issue with -- is playing a minimal role in the race and has a far less threatening presence in the immediate aftermath of last month’s election. Some also point to the fact that the Queens county party has been defeated in a number of elections over the years by strong insurgent candidates, such as the victories of current City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Ferreras-Copeland’s first win. Moya, meanwhile, helped orchestrate Espinal’s ascension and is actively campaigning on her behalf in an area where he has won several recent elections.</p> <p>For her part, Espinal is confident about the race. “I welcome any challenge,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m from Corona, Queens. I was raised in this neighborhood. I welcome any challenge and it’s exciting. I feel like it’s the Democratic process, too. Why wouldn’t you want a challenge? You would want your voters to get engaged. This is how they get engaged more when they have to pick, to choose and say, ‘Who’s going to represent me the way I want to be represented?’”</p> <p>Having been in office just under three months, Espinal has been prime sponsor on one bill that was passed by both legislative chambers, to extend a labor law relating to unemployment insurance proceedings, and another, called Carlos’ Law, which enacts punishments for developers that put workers at risk of injury or death, which passed only the Assembly. Espinal has also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to her community, she said. She signed on to the Dream Act, which aims to provide state financial aid to undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. She’s received support for her reelection bid from Moya, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano, and the Working Families Party.</p> <p>Espinal is relying on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader, promising voters that she will bring resources back to her community. She has pledged to fight for immigrant protections, affordable housing, school funding, small businesses, and workers rights, and other locally-important issues. And she pushed back against the notion that she is the establishment candidate in the race. “Quite so often you have politicians who are not from the area and just want to run for office because they just want the power. I’m not looking for the power,” she said. “What I’m looking for is to actually engage my community and tell them, ‘I’m here. I’m here for you because I’ve lived here and I know the issues...because I’m your neighbor.’”</p> <p>Cruz, Espinal’s opponent, strikes a similar chord with her campaign pitch. “My entire life is a spectrum of the people of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst,” she said in a phone interview. But one thing that sets her far apart from Espinal is that Cruz herself is a “Dreamer,” a child of undocumented immigrants who came to New York at the age of nine and who only recently gained permanent resident status in 2009. “I went from being an undocumented child who picked cans in the street with her mom to survive, to being a Dreamer who was going to undergrad and paying for school for herself to a working poor lawyer...to being a middle-class New Yorker, which is basically the spectrum of the people who are here in our community,” she said.</p> <p>After graduating law school and working as a housing attorney, Cruz joined the Attorney General’s office, then headed by Andrew Cuomo, before he was elected governor. Cruz served afterwards in the Department of Labor as counsel in the division of immigrant affairs. She worked with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- who has endorsed her -- to write the legislation that kicked ICE agents off Rikers Island. She also returned to working for Cuomo, heading up his Exploited Workers Task Force, after which she joined Council Member Ferreras-Copeland’s staff. Her former boss has endorsed her, as have Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin.</p> <p>“We’re a people-driven campaign,” Cruz said of her approach to the race. “We start with people and we end with people. We start with the idea that all of our policies should be informed by people.” Though her policy platform largely resembles Espinal’s, Cruz says she sets herself apart by virtue of her independence, experience, her focus on the residents of the district who cannot vote, and her pledge to refuse corporate and luxury developer money (the latter a promise like one made by Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Crowley for the large corporate donations he received).</p> <p>“We are running a campaign that’s very much driven by people that live in the district and we’re independent from any ties to a political organization,” Cruz said.</p> <p>Those ties or the lack thereof may not be determinative in the Assembly race that does again put the power of the Queens County Democrats in the spotlight, observers who spoke with Gotham Gazette said. One former Assembly candidate from Queens said the path to victory lies in a robust ground game and organization. “You knock on enough doors, you meet enough people, and you raise enough money, and the barriers to entry are very low,” the former candidate said. “How many people are gonna vote in an Assembly race? A few thousand? How much money do you need to raise for an assembly race? $100,000? How many doors are you gonna knock on?...You put your walking shoes on and you can do it. So I think party power is very limited and Ari and Catalina will win or lose on the strengths of their own organic, local operation.”</p> <p>Democratic insiders pointed out that the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement comes with political validation but not necessarily the resources to bolster a campaign, such as funding or boots on the ground. It’s why they disputed the characterization of the county party as a machine that can determine the course of campaigns. The party does, however, pressure potential contenders against considering a challenge to an incumbent and often brings with its endorsement a slew of loyal elected officials who coalesce around the county’s candidate and use their own resources and networks to boost them. The party also has connections at the Board of Elections and often attempts to knock challengers off the ballot and at times activates a network of district leaders and county committee members to help with ballot petition signature-gathering, door-knocking, and flyering.</p> <p>“It seems like [Cruz] has real momentum and...everyone’s going to attest the strength of her campaign to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but I think the reality of it is the dynamics of that race were shaped well before the congressional race,” said a Queens Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous to discuss things freely.</p> <p>“I think people have an impression of the Queens county organization as a faulty machine,” the operative said, insisting that a loss by a county-backed candidate did not mean the so-called machine is faltering. “I think the reality is that’s not what the organization is...In my experience, they support somebody and their support will provide the significant assistance of validation from other elected officials. That’s very helpful...but it was never designed to overcome bad campaigns or great opposing candidates.”</p> <p>If the incumbent candidate backed by the Queens Democrats loses to an independent challenger, the optics are far from ideal coming so close on the heels of Crowley’s loss. But the county has invested little in the race, said another Democratic insider from Queens who knows both Espinal and Cruz and who decried the term “machine” as a “loaded expression” for a county party that simply tries to elect its own members to office.</p> <p>But the Queens county organization is undoubtedly powerful. The “machine” moniker stems from the fact that the party holds sway over more than just candidate endorsements -- its backing often also means a candidate will not receive a primary challenger. The county organization selects judicial nominees, and allies of Crowley <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made hefty profits</a> from being appointed as guardians in Surrogate’s Court. The party’s executive secretary is Michael Reich, whose partner Gerard Sweeney in the law firm Sweeney, Reich and Bolz, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Surrogate’s Court business. The county also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener">selects one of the ten commissioners on the New York City Board of Elections</a>, who decide which candidates qualify to appear on the ballot.</p> <p>The City Council speaker’s race has more often than not also been decided by the influence of the Queens and Bronx county parties; Council central staffers are frequently picked from the county’s ranks; and Council committee chairs are influenced by county allegiances. And though Crowley may no longer represent the House next year, <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/joe-crowley-queens-machine-democratic-chairman.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported</a> that he’s expected to be reelected county chair by district leaders for another two-year term in September. The county organization did not return a request for comment for this article about its support for Espinal.</p> <p>“I don’t think it would be a fair characterization to say this is a test of the county organization because I’m not sure they have all hands on deck for this one,” the insider said. The insider insisted that neither candidate needs the county party’s help to win the race, which would be won on the merits of their candidacies, and that Crowley’s fall is more likely to have an effect on the state Senate District 13 race, where Jessica Ramos is challenging Senator Jose Peralta, formerly of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which empowered Republicans. “I don’t think the Catalina-Ari race is affected by the Crowley result as much,” the insider said. “I just don’t get the sense that that changed everything...They weren’t dependent on Crowley for the win. Peralta was kinda depending on the county guys propping him up, keeping him strong and I feel like that has turned and now Ramos, if I had to bet, will win that race.”</p> <p>Cruz herself drew a parallel with Ocasio-Cortez’s win, noting that voters turned out in higher numbers for the progressive challenger than Crowley in his own backyard, which encompasses large parts of the Assembly district, to vote out the incumbent. “[Ocasio-Cortez] believed in the everyday person and the everyday person believed in her so much that they went out and overwhelmingly voted for her,” she said. “And that’s where we find ourselves, in the exact same situation.”</p> <p>But even she denied that she was poking the bear through her candidacy. “I wouldn’t call it testing their power because I never said I’m running against the machine,” Cruz said. “I’ve always said I’m running for the people. We have an organization that was just shown what people powered campaigns can do and we’re about to show them a second time.”</p> <p>If anything, the race may show that the Queens party’s once-coveted support has turned sour, seen by some as a signal of establishment politics that has been too out of touch with regular voters. “I think it definitely suffered,” said the Democratic insider of the county party’s endorsement. “It’s very raw and very recent, the whole Joe thing...I don’t know if this is a permanent problem or just a temporary one. But the timing right now is bad for those people.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Lawyers of Color Largely Shut Out of Queens Surrogate’s Court Business 2017-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6995:lawyers-of-color-largely-shut-out-of-queens-surrogate-s-court-business Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/14931652922_d93d9c4977_z.jpg" alt="Court room" width="600" height="450" />&nbsp;<br />(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kneoh/14931652922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">photo: Karen Neoh</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>For decades, the judicial courts in Queens have been plagued by nepotism and patronage charges, with judges accused of awarding lucrative appointments to a select few.</p> <p>Some of the highest earners of guardianship appointments, doled out by Surrogate’s Court for those who die or become incapacitated without wills, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">frequently</a> have ties to the County Democratic Party machine, headed by Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley.</p> <p>A demographic breakdown of the highest earning beneficiaries of Surrogate's Court appointments over the past seven years suggests that a pattern of favoritism may be creating a systemic barrier to entry for lawyers of color, and even amplifying racial disparities throughout the judicial system.</p> <p>Assignments are bestowed by Surrogate Judge Peter Kelly, who was elected to a 14-year term in 2010 after being nominated by the Queens Democratic Party and faced no opponent.</p> <p>Of 929 lawyers who are eligible for Surrogate’s Court assignments, and the fees that come with them, only 153 have received appointments from 2010 through 2016, the vast majority of them -- 129 -- are white. A similar ratio exists on the eligibility list: of 929 lawyers, about 850 of them are white.</p> <p>Of nearly $7.2 million issued to attorneys over seven years of Surrogate’s Court appointments, around $6.4 million (88.1 percent) went to white attorneys, but just $699,249 (9.7 percent) went to black attorneys; $137,325.00 (1.9 percent) went to Latino attorneys; and just $21,795 (.3 percent) went to Asian attorneys.</p> <p>A year-by-year analysis of the data reveals a widening racial gap regarding the frequency and size of appointments. In 2015, almost 92 percent of the guardianship money paid made by the court went to appointees who were white, up from nearly 82 percent white just five years earlier. In 2016, percentage of money earned by whites dipped again to 88 percent.</p> <p>Of the top 10 Queens Surrogate’s Court earners over the last seven years, all were white. Of the top 20 earners, 19 were white.</p> <p>Topping the list is Scott Kaufman, Rep. Crowley’s longtime campaign treasurer and business partner to Crowley’s brother Sean, who has raked in nearly $300,000 from Surrogate’s Court in seven years. Kaufman is currently being investigated by the state courts inspector general, for exceeding the $75,000 cap on how much one appointee may earn in a year, and then continuing to earn appointments the following year, despite being ineligible according to court rules, <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/06/12/joe-crowleys-treasurer-being-probed-in-possible-pay-violation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Post reported</a> on Monday. (Kaufman maintains that he is in compliance with the rules and that no one has contacted him regarding an investigation.)</p> <p>The ninth highest earner is Albert F. Pennisi, a regular financial contributor to the Queens County Democratic Party, whose law license was suspended for five years <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/10/nyregion/court-suspends-whistleblower-in-corruption.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 1990</a> for his role in an illegal kickbacks scheme.</p> <p>Fifteenth on the list is the son of former Surrogate’s judge Louis D. Laurino. The elder Laurino was censured in 1988 by the Commission on Judicial Conduct after the agency found he had rented offices to three lawyers to whom he granted lucrative appointments. He also was accused of pressuring a lawyer to hire his son, as well as a nephew, and making an improper political contribution to the late, scandal-scarred Queens Borough President Donald R. Manes, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/07/nyregion/state-panel-censures-a-judge-in-queens-for-ethical-abuses.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Times</a>.</p> <p>Queens Surrogate’s Court judges have long been selected by the borough’s Democratic Party Chair, an arrangement that many see as responsible for the court’s rampant patronage. Judge Kelly, who worked alongside his predecessor Judge Robert Nahman as Acting Surrogate for several years before taking the bench, ran unopposed in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Rep. Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader.</p> <p>Kelly and Crowley are both white, as are most of the Queens Democratic machine leaders, and while both men have expressed intentions to diversify Queens’ judiciary courts, the money trail shows little headway. Presented with data on the stark lack of diversity of lawyers receiving Surrogate's Court assignments, a spokesperson for Crowley’s office said the party has no influence over the diversity of Surrogate’s Court appointees -- the lawyers that receive assignments from the judge.</p> <p>"The Queens Democratic Party is committed to diversity in all areas of our community. The party does not, nor should it, have a role in the selection of lawyers, but has made a commitment to nominating a diverse slate of judges to stand for election," said a spokesperson for the Queens Democratic Party.</p> <p><strong>‘A Road to Nowhere’</strong><br />Queens is often hailed as one of the most diverse places in the world; more than a quarter of borough’s population identifies as Latino, another quarter is Asian, and about 18 percent is black, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.</p> <p>The borough has become home to more people of color; from 2010 to 2015, the number of Latinos in Queens grew by nearly 5 percent, and the borough’s Asian population rose by over 16 percent.</p> <p>But when it comes to the borough Surrogate's Court, diversity among guardianship appointments appears to be declining, and for those lawyers of Asian or Latino descent, appointments are almost non-existent.</p> <p>In order to get appointments, lawyers must be on the Office of Court Administration’s eligibility list, which itself is lacking in diversity.</p> <p>To determine the ethnic identities of those on the list of eligible lawyers as well as the 153 who received court appointments over the last seven years, their names were run through a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ngpvan.com/feature/votebuilder">VAN/Votebuilder</a>&nbsp;database, which creates voter profiles based on voter registration, geographic information, public records, and a variety of other resources.</p> <p>Of 929 eligible attorneys, 830 were identified as white, 45 as black, 29 as Asian, and 15 as Latino. Nine more could not be easily identified by VAN’s database.</p> <p>Getting on the eligibility list is not particularly difficult -- lawyers must take a three-hour “guardian ad litem” course with the New York Bar Association and fill out a form demonstrating their competence in the material, then renew their eligibility every two years to remain -- but an apparent bias in the way the assignments are distributed may discourage lawyers of color from even applying.</p> <p>When they do get on the list, it often proves to be “a road to nowhere” for lawyers of color, as one attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it, so they choose not to renew their eligibility.</p> <p>A review of all payments disbursed by the Queens County Surrogate’s Court between January 1, 2010 and the end of 2016 found an inverse relationship between the changing demographics of the borough and the racial identities of the court’s beneficiaries.</p> <p>Of the 153 attorneys who received Queens County Surrogate’s Court payments during the seven-year review period, 129 (84 percent) were white, 17 (11 percent) were black, four (2.6 percent) were Asian, and three (1.9 percent) were Latino, according to the data.</p> <p>The percentage of total money paid to black, Latino and Asian lawyers remains lower than the percentage of payments made to black, Latino and Asian attorneys -- a sign non-white attorneys are receiving less lucrative appointments and possibly making less for the same work.</p> <p>One former appointee, Jimmy Wu, was for years the sole Asian attorney assigned “guardian ad litem” cases by the Queens Surrogate’s Court judge. He was assigned to act as a guardian for incapacitated immigrant seniors with no known family members in the United States. The jobs were so complex and the money so insignificant that it amounted to pro-bono work, he said.</p> <p>"A lot of people don't want to take on these kinds of cases. I knew the community needed help so I was willing to give time to it," said Wu, who added he was likely chosen because he speaks Chinese dialect, and previously worked for the court system.</p> <p>The most recent case Wu took on, is still not fully resolved, though he now lives California, where he works as a pro-tem judge in San Mateo County Superior Court. Wu said that at the time, he was not aware that he was the only Asian appointee.</p> <p>"If I was the only one, there should be more," said Wu. “I was told ‘Wait until we trust you and you'll get bigger cases,’ but after five or seven cases, I got tired of waiting.”</p> <p>Currently, there are at least 29 Asian attorneys on the eligibility list, but aside from Wu, only three were paid for Surrogate’s Court work during the seven-year period, most of them in 2016. Most years, there was just one, or zero, Asian attorneys in the pool of appointees.</p> <p>These four Asian attorneys also received disproportionately small appointments. Despite making up 2.6 percent of the total appointees, Asian lawyers benefited from just .3 percent of money paid out by Queens Surrogate’s Court from 2010 through 2016.</p> <p>Similarly underrepresented are Latino attorneys. Over the course of seven years, just three lawyers identified as Latino were paid for appointments. One of them, who received a handful of small payments in 2010, like Wu, appears to have stopped renewing his eligibility, according to the current list. That leaves just two out of at least 15 eligible Latino lawyers who are actively receiving appointments. One of them, Jose Araujo, is also the Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, creating an inherent conflict of interest, and potentially a quid-pro-quo relationship, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as Gotham Gazette has reported</a>. In other words, this year there is just one Latino lawyer receiving court appointments who does not appear to have a patronage arrangement with the Queens Democratic machine.</p> <p>Recognizing that Latino lawyers are underrepresented on the list of those eligible, Judge Kelly did reach out to the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County in 2015, and held a Q&amp;A session in an effort to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants -- a gesture that was appreciated by members of the organization.</p> <p>“Our organization is dedicated to increasing the representation of attorneys of color in all areas of practice in Queens. We respect the autonomy of judges and we will continue to work with all parties to make Queens more diverse,” said Catalina Cruz, president of the Latino Lawyers Association.</p> <p>Perhaps these efforts paid off, because there was a slight uptick in total Surrogate’s Court payments going to lawyers of color in 2016. Judge Kelly did not respond to multiple requests for comment.</p> <p><strong>Widened Racial Gap</strong><br />While the number of guardianship appointees who are black is somewhat more representative -- 17 black lawyers have been paid by the Queens Surrogate’s Court from 2010 through 2016, and 41 are currently eligible for appointment -- overall, the cases they have received are fewer and less lucrative than those assigned to their white peers.</p> <p>Of the $7.2 million in payments issued to attorneys over seven years, around $6.4 million (88.1 percent) went to white attorneys, but just $699,249 (9.7 percent) went to black attorneys.</p> <p>Additionally, the year-by-year trend indicates that the racial gap in Queens Surrogate’s Court payments is widening, both in number of appointments per year and profitability of the cases assigned.</p> <p>From 2010 to 2016, the percentage of money paid to white attorneys grew from 81.75 percent in 2010 to 87.79 percent in 2016, down slightly after peaking at 91.9 percent in 2015. At the same time, the percentage of Surrogate’s Court assignment money paid to black attorneys has declined from 14.44 percent in 2010 to 7.19 percent in 2016, after previously falling to 6.86 percent in 2015.</p> <p>The percentage of number of Surrogate’s Court payments made to white attorneys rose from 77.98 percent in 2010 to 85.39 percent in 2016, after peaking at 90.02 percent in 2015.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the number of fees disbursed to black attorneys declined from 18.38 percent in 2010 to 9.82 percent in 2016, after previously falling to a low of 8.27 percent in 2015.</p> <p>Leaders of New York City’s minority bar associations, like the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, say the organizations were founded to help mend systemic problems that lead to racial disparities and create a pipeline to opportunity for more lawyers of color.</p> <p>“Institutionalized bias happens across all kinds of structures,” said Paula Edgar, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.“Whether there is explicit bias or implicit bias, it seems to me that there should be a focus on shifting the commitment to diversity. Because Queens is a diverse borough and we should have representation in the court and access to opportunities to reflect the diversity of the borough.”</p> <p><strong>Lack of Diversity in the Judiciary</strong><br />On a larger scale, New York State’s judiciary has failed to keep up with the changing demographics of the state, according to <a href="http://www.nysba.org/judicialdiversityreport/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 2014 report</a> from the New York State Bar Association.</p> <p>“The composition of the government, including the judicial branch, must reflect the composition of the governed or risk losing credibility. The lack of judicial diversity in certain regions of New York is incompatible with the egalitarian ideals of our democracy,” the report cautions.</p> <p>In Queens, where nearly half <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/POP645215/36081,00" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the population</a> is foreign born, the court system’s lag in diversity has had rippling consequences.</p> <p>In March, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/queens-judges-threaten-jurors-bad-english-article-1.3002840?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Daily News reported</a> that “at least four Queens judges have made empty threats to potential jurors with limited English skills, telling them they have to take language lessons or return to court to prove their proficiency.”</p> <p>Two of the four judges – Ira Margulis and Kenneth Holder – were elected to their offices as official nominees for the Queens Democratic Party, meaning that they were effectively picked by the Queens Democratic boss, Rep. Joe Crowley.</p> <p>Margulis was a Queens Democratic Party pick in 2003 and again for his Queens County Civil Supreme Court position in 2011. Holder was a Queens Democratic Party pick for Queens County Civil Supreme Court in 2007, when he moved up from his Civil Court position.</p> <p>Campaign finance records show that neither Margulis nor Holder had their own campaign committees the year they were elected, meaning they would have been reliant on the Queens Democratic organization for campaign assistance.</p> <p>Amidst all the scrutiny of Queens Surrogate's Court this year, two state legislators from Queens quietly introduced <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A06719&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y\" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bill</a> that would gut court oversight by giving Surrogate's Court judges the power to waive annual reporting requirements for court-appointed guardians based on their previous years of service.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/14931652922_d93d9c4977_z.jpg" alt="Court room" width="600" height="450" />&nbsp;<br />(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kneoh/14931652922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">photo: Karen Neoh</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>For decades, the judicial courts in Queens have been plagued by nepotism and patronage charges, with judges accused of awarding lucrative appointments to a select few.</p> <p>Some of the highest earners of guardianship appointments, doled out by Surrogate’s Court for those who die or become incapacitated without wills, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">frequently</a> have ties to the County Democratic Party machine, headed by Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley.</p> <p>A demographic breakdown of the highest earning beneficiaries of Surrogate's Court appointments over the past seven years suggests that a pattern of favoritism may be creating a systemic barrier to entry for lawyers of color, and even amplifying racial disparities throughout the judicial system.</p> <p>Assignments are bestowed by Surrogate Judge Peter Kelly, who was elected to a 14-year term in 2010 after being nominated by the Queens Democratic Party and faced no opponent.</p> <p>Of 929 lawyers who are eligible for Surrogate’s Court assignments, and the fees that come with them, only 153 have received appointments from 2010 through 2016, the vast majority of them -- 129 -- are white. A similar ratio exists on the eligibility list: of 929 lawyers, about 850 of them are white.</p> <p>Of nearly $7.2 million issued to attorneys over seven years of Surrogate’s Court appointments, around $6.4 million (88.1 percent) went to white attorneys, but just $699,249 (9.7 percent) went to black attorneys; $137,325.00 (1.9 percent) went to Latino attorneys; and just $21,795 (.3 percent) went to Asian attorneys.</p> <p>A year-by-year analysis of the data reveals a widening racial gap regarding the frequency and size of appointments. In 2015, almost 92 percent of the guardianship money paid made by the court went to appointees who were white, up from nearly 82 percent white just five years earlier. In 2016, percentage of money earned by whites dipped again to 88 percent.</p> <p>Of the top 10 Queens Surrogate’s Court earners over the last seven years, all were white. Of the top 20 earners, 19 were white.</p> <p>Topping the list is Scott Kaufman, Rep. Crowley’s longtime campaign treasurer and business partner to Crowley’s brother Sean, who has raked in nearly $300,000 from Surrogate’s Court in seven years. Kaufman is currently being investigated by the state courts inspector general, for exceeding the $75,000 cap on how much one appointee may earn in a year, and then continuing to earn appointments the following year, despite being ineligible according to court rules, <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/06/12/joe-crowleys-treasurer-being-probed-in-possible-pay-violation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Post reported</a> on Monday. (Kaufman maintains that he is in compliance with the rules and that no one has contacted him regarding an investigation.)</p> <p>The ninth highest earner is Albert F. Pennisi, a regular financial contributor to the Queens County Democratic Party, whose law license was suspended for five years <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/10/nyregion/court-suspends-whistleblower-in-corruption.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 1990</a> for his role in an illegal kickbacks scheme.</p> <p>Fifteenth on the list is the son of former Surrogate’s judge Louis D. Laurino. The elder Laurino was censured in 1988 by the Commission on Judicial Conduct after the agency found he had rented offices to three lawyers to whom he granted lucrative appointments. He also was accused of pressuring a lawyer to hire his son, as well as a nephew, and making an improper political contribution to the late, scandal-scarred Queens Borough President Donald R. Manes, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/07/nyregion/state-panel-censures-a-judge-in-queens-for-ethical-abuses.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Times</a>.</p> <p>Queens Surrogate’s Court judges have long been selected by the borough’s Democratic Party Chair, an arrangement that many see as responsible for the court’s rampant patronage. Judge Kelly, who worked alongside his predecessor Judge Robert Nahman as Acting Surrogate for several years before taking the bench, ran unopposed in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Rep. Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader.</p> <p>Kelly and Crowley are both white, as are most of the Queens Democratic machine leaders, and while both men have expressed intentions to diversify Queens’ judiciary courts, the money trail shows little headway. Presented with data on the stark lack of diversity of lawyers receiving Surrogate's Court assignments, a spokesperson for Crowley’s office said the party has no influence over the diversity of Surrogate’s Court appointees -- the lawyers that receive assignments from the judge.</p> <p>"The Queens Democratic Party is committed to diversity in all areas of our community. The party does not, nor should it, have a role in the selection of lawyers, but has made a commitment to nominating a diverse slate of judges to stand for election," said a spokesperson for the Queens Democratic Party.</p> <p><strong>‘A Road to Nowhere’</strong><br />Queens is often hailed as one of the most diverse places in the world; more than a quarter of borough’s population identifies as Latino, another quarter is Asian, and about 18 percent is black, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.</p> <p>The borough has become home to more people of color; from 2010 to 2015, the number of Latinos in Queens grew by nearly 5 percent, and the borough’s Asian population rose by over 16 percent.</p> <p>But when it comes to the borough Surrogate's Court, diversity among guardianship appointments appears to be declining, and for those lawyers of Asian or Latino descent, appointments are almost non-existent.</p> <p>In order to get appointments, lawyers must be on the Office of Court Administration’s eligibility list, which itself is lacking in diversity.</p> <p>To determine the ethnic identities of those on the list of eligible lawyers as well as the 153 who received court appointments over the last seven years, their names were run through a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ngpvan.com/feature/votebuilder">VAN/Votebuilder</a>&nbsp;database, which creates voter profiles based on voter registration, geographic information, public records, and a variety of other resources.</p> <p>Of 929 eligible attorneys, 830 were identified as white, 45 as black, 29 as Asian, and 15 as Latino. Nine more could not be easily identified by VAN’s database.</p> <p>Getting on the eligibility list is not particularly difficult -- lawyers must take a three-hour “guardian ad litem” course with the New York Bar Association and fill out a form demonstrating their competence in the material, then renew their eligibility every two years to remain -- but an apparent bias in the way the assignments are distributed may discourage lawyers of color from even applying.</p> <p>When they do get on the list, it often proves to be “a road to nowhere” for lawyers of color, as one attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, put it, so they choose not to renew their eligibility.</p> <p>A review of all payments disbursed by the Queens County Surrogate’s Court between January 1, 2010 and the end of 2016 found an inverse relationship between the changing demographics of the borough and the racial identities of the court’s beneficiaries.</p> <p>Of the 153 attorneys who received Queens County Surrogate’s Court payments during the seven-year review period, 129 (84 percent) were white, 17 (11 percent) were black, four (2.6 percent) were Asian, and three (1.9 percent) were Latino, according to the data.</p> <p>The percentage of total money paid to black, Latino and Asian lawyers remains lower than the percentage of payments made to black, Latino and Asian attorneys -- a sign non-white attorneys are receiving less lucrative appointments and possibly making less for the same work.</p> <p>One former appointee, Jimmy Wu, was for years the sole Asian attorney assigned “guardian ad litem” cases by the Queens Surrogate’s Court judge. He was assigned to act as a guardian for incapacitated immigrant seniors with no known family members in the United States. The jobs were so complex and the money so insignificant that it amounted to pro-bono work, he said.</p> <p>"A lot of people don't want to take on these kinds of cases. I knew the community needed help so I was willing to give time to it," said Wu, who added he was likely chosen because he speaks Chinese dialect, and previously worked for the court system.</p> <p>The most recent case Wu took on, is still not fully resolved, though he now lives California, where he works as a pro-tem judge in San Mateo County Superior Court. Wu said that at the time, he was not aware that he was the only Asian appointee.</p> <p>"If I was the only one, there should be more," said Wu. “I was told ‘Wait until we trust you and you'll get bigger cases,’ but after five or seven cases, I got tired of waiting.”</p> <p>Currently, there are at least 29 Asian attorneys on the eligibility list, but aside from Wu, only three were paid for Surrogate’s Court work during the seven-year period, most of them in 2016. Most years, there was just one, or zero, Asian attorneys in the pool of appointees.</p> <p>These four Asian attorneys also received disproportionately small appointments. Despite making up 2.6 percent of the total appointees, Asian lawyers benefited from just .3 percent of money paid out by Queens Surrogate’s Court from 2010 through 2016.</p> <p>Similarly underrepresented are Latino attorneys. Over the course of seven years, just three lawyers identified as Latino were paid for appointments. One of them, who received a handful of small payments in 2010, like Wu, appears to have stopped renewing his eligibility, according to the current list. That leaves just two out of at least 15 eligible Latino lawyers who are actively receiving appointments. One of them, Jose Araujo, is also the Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, creating an inherent conflict of interest, and potentially a quid-pro-quo relationship, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6944-crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as Gotham Gazette has reported</a>. In other words, this year there is just one Latino lawyer receiving court appointments who does not appear to have a patronage arrangement with the Queens Democratic machine.</p> <p>Recognizing that Latino lawyers are underrepresented on the list of those eligible, Judge Kelly did reach out to the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County in 2015, and held a Q&amp;A session in an effort to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants -- a gesture that was appreciated by members of the organization.</p> <p>“Our organization is dedicated to increasing the representation of attorneys of color in all areas of practice in Queens. We respect the autonomy of judges and we will continue to work with all parties to make Queens more diverse,” said Catalina Cruz, president of the Latino Lawyers Association.</p> <p>Perhaps these efforts paid off, because there was a slight uptick in total Surrogate’s Court payments going to lawyers of color in 2016. Judge Kelly did not respond to multiple requests for comment.</p> <p><strong>Widened Racial Gap</strong><br />While the number of guardianship appointees who are black is somewhat more representative -- 17 black lawyers have been paid by the Queens Surrogate’s Court from 2010 through 2016, and 41 are currently eligible for appointment -- overall, the cases they have received are fewer and less lucrative than those assigned to their white peers.</p> <p>Of the $7.2 million in payments issued to attorneys over seven years, around $6.4 million (88.1 percent) went to white attorneys, but just $699,249 (9.7 percent) went to black attorneys.</p> <p>Additionally, the year-by-year trend indicates that the racial gap in Queens Surrogate’s Court payments is widening, both in number of appointments per year and profitability of the cases assigned.</p> <p>From 2010 to 2016, the percentage of money paid to white attorneys grew from 81.75 percent in 2010 to 87.79 percent in 2016, down slightly after peaking at 91.9 percent in 2015. At the same time, the percentage of Surrogate’s Court assignment money paid to black attorneys has declined from 14.44 percent in 2010 to 7.19 percent in 2016, after previously falling to 6.86 percent in 2015.</p> <p>The percentage of number of Surrogate’s Court payments made to white attorneys rose from 77.98 percent in 2010 to 85.39 percent in 2016, after peaking at 90.02 percent in 2015.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the number of fees disbursed to black attorneys declined from 18.38 percent in 2010 to 9.82 percent in 2016, after previously falling to a low of 8.27 percent in 2015.</p> <p>Leaders of New York City’s minority bar associations, like the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, say the organizations were founded to help mend systemic problems that lead to racial disparities and create a pipeline to opportunity for more lawyers of color.</p> <p>“Institutionalized bias happens across all kinds of structures,” said Paula Edgar, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.“Whether there is explicit bias or implicit bias, it seems to me that there should be a focus on shifting the commitment to diversity. Because Queens is a diverse borough and we should have representation in the court and access to opportunities to reflect the diversity of the borough.”</p> <p><strong>Lack of Diversity in the Judiciary</strong><br />On a larger scale, New York State’s judiciary has failed to keep up with the changing demographics of the state, according to <a href="http://www.nysba.org/judicialdiversityreport/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 2014 report</a> from the New York State Bar Association.</p> <p>“The composition of the government, including the judicial branch, must reflect the composition of the governed or risk losing credibility. The lack of judicial diversity in certain regions of New York is incompatible with the egalitarian ideals of our democracy,” the report cautions.</p> <p>In Queens, where nearly half <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/POP645215/36081,00" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the population</a> is foreign born, the court system’s lag in diversity has had rippling consequences.</p> <p>In March, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/queens-judges-threaten-jurors-bad-english-article-1.3002840?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Daily News reported</a> that “at least four Queens judges have made empty threats to potential jurors with limited English skills, telling them they have to take language lessons or return to court to prove their proficiency.”</p> <p>Two of the four judges – Ira Margulis and Kenneth Holder – were elected to their offices as official nominees for the Queens Democratic Party, meaning that they were effectively picked by the Queens Democratic boss, Rep. Joe Crowley.</p> <p>Margulis was a Queens Democratic Party pick in 2003 and again for his Queens County Civil Supreme Court position in 2011. Holder was a Queens Democratic Party pick for Queens County Civil Supreme Court in 2007, when he moved up from his Civil Court position.</p> <p>Campaign finance records show that neither Margulis nor Holder had their own campaign committees the year they were elected, meaning they would have been reliant on the Queens Democratic organization for campaign assistance.</p> <p>Amidst all the scrutiny of Queens Surrogate's Court this year, two state legislators from Queens quietly introduced <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A06719&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y\" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bill</a> that would gut court oversight by giving Surrogate's Court judges the power to waive annual reporting requirements for court-appointed guardians based on their previous years of service.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Crowley Appointee to Board of Elections Sees Spike in Queens Court Profits 2017-05-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6944:crowley-appointee-to-board-of-elections-sees-spike-in-queens-court-profits Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/crowley_voting.jpg" alt="crowley voting" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley photo: @JoeCrowleyNY</p> <hr /> <p>The Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, who in the past has come under fire for conflicts of interest, is quickly becoming one of the highest earning recipients of Queens court patronage, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>In 2014, Jose Miguel Araujo, then the newly elected BOE president, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was fined</a> $10,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) -- the maximum penalty for nepotism -- because he gave his wife Rita Patron Araujo a job as a temporary clerk between 2010 and 2012.</p> <p>The fines issued against Araujo and other BOE employees followed a scathing 2013 Department of Investigation (DOI) report, which found the agency to be rife with nepotism, incompetence, and overall dysfunction.</p> <p>"The imposition of the maximum legal fine on the Board’s President should send a powerful message that this conduct will not be tolerated,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement at the time of the fines.</p> <p>Despite the incident, Araujo was renominated for the position by the Queens County Democratic Party and reconfirmed for a four-year term by the City Council in 2016. Since then, his law practice has become one of the top earners of Queens Court patronage doled out by the Queens Surrogate’s Court and Queens Supreme Court, raising questions about his impartiality as a BOE commissioner and other conflicts of interest this outside business might present.</p> <p>Before he became a commissioner, from 2005 through 2007, Araujo earned significant payments from the Queens Surrogate’s Court, which settles estates of Queens residents who die without wills. The appointments required Araujo to act as a “guardian ad litem,” to advocate for individuals incapacitated by age or mental illness. After Araujo joined the BOE in 2008, the appointments stopped. Several payments trickled in again in 2011, but after the 2014 COIB fine, the appointments escalated from both Surrogate’s Court and also Supreme Court, which gave Araujo work as a court evaluator or counsel for guardians of incapacitated individuals.</p> <p>Of the roughly $140,000 Araujo earned from Queens court appointments since 2005, half of the money -- $69,513 -- flowed to Araujo’s practice in the last two years, according to records obtained from the New York State Unified Court System.</p> <p>Rita Araujo, the commissioner’s wife, has had financial difficulties in her past -- a records search shows she is named in 15 nonpayment eviction lawsuits by a previous landlord between 2000 and 2007 -- and Jose Araujo said during his 2014 COIB deposition that he put her on the BOE payroll to qualify her for health benefits. By 2015, the couple was able to purchase a home in Brookhaven, Suffolk County for $203,000, without a mortgage.</p> <p>The couple’s additional income appears to be no coincidence -- current Queens Surrogate’s Court Judge Peter Kelly owes his position to Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Queens Democratic Party who nominated Kelly before he ran unopposed for a 14-year term in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader, a locally elected party official that comes with no salary but some political clout. As party chair, Crowley also appoints the Queens Democratic representative to the Board of Elections.</p> <p>In most boroughs, Democratic judicial candidates are nominated by the party heads and must pass the scrutiny of an independent judicial screening panel before they make it on the ballot. In Queens, the Democratic Party does not require a screening for judges and the party’s pick is rarely opposed. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/11/opinion/topics-of-the-times-surrogate-democracy.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For half a century</a>, Queens Democratic Party heads have successfully avoided a primary for the powerful Surrogate’s Court post, but if a rogue lawyer did challenge the party’s preferred candidate, it would be helpful for Crowley to have a friendly Board of Elections commissioner, were anything related to ballot petitions or other matters to arise. This is also the case for virtually all other elected offices, where the county party runs a preferred candidate, whether for seats in the City Council, state Assembly, state Senate, and so on.</p> <p>The fact that Queens court appointments are notoriously handed out to a select few lawyers by judges that have the backing and support of Crowley’s machine makes the arrangement particularly questionable, according to one election attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>"There doesn't seem to be any reason that [Jose Miguel Araujo] should to be sitting there as a commissioner while he is getting all these appointments. No one can say getting a job as a surrogate in a particular county is unrelated to the politics of the county," said the lawyer. “They have to like you, or you're not getting that job.”</p> <p>The Queens judicial courts have been plagued by charges of cronyism and patronage <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for decades</a>. Surrogate’s and Supreme Court judges, hand-picked by party leaders, assign lucrative and easy cases to a small group of lawyers with connections to the Queens County Democratic Party machine. However, besides Araujo, no other sitting Board of Elections commissioner has been handed court appointments since being confirmed to the BOE.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, said the Queens Surrogate’s Courts have been used as a reward system for the party machine for too long and that it’s time for the proper authorities, in this case New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to step in. “The scandal and corruption risk around Queens Surrogate’s has reached a level of outrageousness that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s turned into a kind of a punchline in good government and political circles."</p> <p>A Board of Elections commissioner taking payment for these court assignments may also violate the city’s conflict of interest law. <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/html/law/law_chap_68_dir.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chapter 68</a> of New York City’s Charter limits the types of outside work public servants who practice law can pursue. For example, public servants may not use their city positions for “financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect” -- which would be the case if Araujo’s influence at the BOE was the driving force behind his recent appointments -- according to a 2001 advisory opinion from COIB. They also may not represent private clients that have business dealings before the City, according to the same opinion. While Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court are state agencies, if a Surrogate's Court estate proceeding results in a property sale, that sale would be conducted by the Queens Public Administrator's Office, which is a city agency.</p> <p>The Queens public administrator also has ties to the Democratic party machine. The sole counsel to Queens Public Administrator Lois Rosenblatt is Gerard Sweeney, who takes a hefty percentage of each sale referred by the courts. Sweeney -- who in the 1990s was the party’s law chair, charged with ensuring party favorites wound up on the ballot while insurgents were disqualified -- no longer holds an official position in the Queens County Democratic Party, but was described in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent Daily News article</a> as its “most important strategist, helping guide the party’s political machinations on the homefront as it jousts for influence in City Hall and Albany.”</p> <p>Sweeney has reportedly earned $30 million since 2006 for administering these sales referred by Surrogate’s Court, according to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Daily News</a>. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was herself fined $3,000 <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/05/10/two-city-officials-slapped-with-ethics-violations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earlier this month</a>&nbsp;by the COIB for nepotism.</p> <p>In at least one case, Araujo did represent a client who had business before the public administrator. On November 10, 2011, Araujo was appointed “guardian ad litem” in Queens Surrogate's Court for the estate of Josephine Ralton, a 92-year-old woman who had died in 2009 with no clear heirs. Eight days later, the Queens Public Administrator sold Ralton's luxury Forest Hills apartment. Araujo received a $3,000 payment from Queens Surrogate's Court for his work on the case, according to court records.</p> <p>Reached by phone, Araujo first denied having received court appointments in recent years. After being reminded that in fact the bulk of his appointments occurred in 2015 and 2016, he said some of cases were done pro-bono because of his “expertise.”</p> <p>But court records show that only a single appointment throughout Araujo's career has ever gone unpaid - a guardianship for Dorothy Noto Lewis, a BOE employee, in April 2016. When Gotham Gazette pointed out that Araujo had in fact earned nearly $70,000 from Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court in the last two years, Araujo cited <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefjudge/36.shtml#02" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the court’s rules</a>, which limits how much one attorney can earn from court appointments in a calendar year, saying he is “capped out at a certain amount.”</p> <p>Araujo said he sees no potential conflicts of interest which could arise from holding the part-time but influential job as Board of Elections commissioner while also benefiting from Surrogate’s appointments. "There is no conflict for me. I'm able to distinguish between the two and I’m able to recuse myself if necessary, but that hasn't happened and it hasn't been necessary," he said.</p> <p>Like other BOE commissioners, Araujo’s work includes voting on whether candidates are eligible for the election ballot. This often includes petition signature validation and cases of petition fraud or irregularity. Commissioners also supervise recounts and oversee numerous issues that impact the voter turnout for elections, including the viability and location of poll sites.</p> <p>These calls are supposed to be impartial, but the notoriously <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">complex system</a> often favors the incumbent or party’s prefered candidates, while outsiders -- who may be less experienced in electoral requirements or lack resources and access to select election lawyers -- are booted off the ballot.</p> <p>Araujo maintains that the uptick in court appointments was merited because he is an expert in kinship cases. Meanwhile, he chose to keep his Board of Elections commissioner job, which comes with influence and a salary not to exceed $30,000 per year, according to <a href="http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/GBOLWebsite/GreenBook/Details?orgId=2852" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a city listing</a>.</p> <p>As the election attorney put it, “There are many, many attorneys who could be appointed to do this job. It would be fair to say that if someone is getting these kinds of referrals from Surrogate's Court [and Supreme Court], they shouldn’t be on the Board of Elections. It’s not like BOE commissioners earn $250,000 a year and people are falling over themselves to get that job.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rep. Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chair, declined to comment on the distribution of Queens court appointments.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/crowley_voting.jpg" alt="crowley voting" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Rep. Joe Crowley photo: @JoeCrowleyNY</p> <hr /> <p>The Queens Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, who in the past has come under fire for conflicts of interest, is quickly becoming one of the highest earning recipients of Queens court patronage, Gotham Gazette has learned.</p> <p>In 2014, Jose Miguel Araujo, then the newly elected BOE president, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was fined</a> $10,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) -- the maximum penalty for nepotism -- because he gave his wife Rita Patron Araujo a job as a temporary clerk between 2010 and 2012.</p> <p>The fines issued against Araujo and other BOE employees followed a scathing 2013 Department of Investigation (DOI) report, which found the agency to be rife with nepotism, incompetence, and overall dysfunction.</p> <p>"The imposition of the maximum legal fine on the Board’s President should send a powerful message that this conduct will not be tolerated,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement at the time of the fines.</p> <p>Despite the incident, Araujo was renominated for the position by the Queens County Democratic Party and reconfirmed for a four-year term by the City Council in 2016. Since then, his law practice has become one of the top earners of Queens Court patronage doled out by the Queens Surrogate’s Court and Queens Supreme Court, raising questions about his impartiality as a BOE commissioner and other conflicts of interest this outside business might present.</p> <p>Before he became a commissioner, from 2005 through 2007, Araujo earned significant payments from the Queens Surrogate’s Court, which settles estates of Queens residents who die without wills. The appointments required Araujo to act as a “guardian ad litem,” to advocate for individuals incapacitated by age or mental illness. After Araujo joined the BOE in 2008, the appointments stopped. Several payments trickled in again in 2011, but after the 2014 COIB fine, the appointments escalated from both Surrogate’s Court and also Supreme Court, which gave Araujo work as a court evaluator or counsel for guardians of incapacitated individuals.</p> <p>Of the roughly $140,000 Araujo earned from Queens court appointments since 2005, half of the money -- $69,513 -- flowed to Araujo’s practice in the last two years, according to records obtained from the New York State Unified Court System.</p> <p>Rita Araujo, the commissioner’s wife, has had financial difficulties in her past -- a records search shows she is named in 15 nonpayment eviction lawsuits by a previous landlord between 2000 and 2007 -- and Jose Araujo said during his 2014 COIB deposition that he put her on the BOE payroll to qualify her for health benefits. By 2015, the couple was able to purchase a home in Brookhaven, Suffolk County for $203,000, without a mortgage.</p> <p>The couple’s additional income appears to be no coincidence -- current Queens Surrogate’s Court Judge Peter Kelly owes his position to Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley, the chair of the Queens Democratic Party who nominated Kelly before he ran unopposed for a 14-year term in 2010. Kelly’s sister, Ann Anzalone, is Crowley’s district chief of staff and a Democratic district leader, a locally elected party official that comes with no salary but some political clout. As party chair, Crowley also appoints the Queens Democratic representative to the Board of Elections.</p> <p>In most boroughs, Democratic judicial candidates are nominated by the party heads and must pass the scrutiny of an independent judicial screening panel before they make it on the ballot. In Queens, the Democratic Party does not require a screening for judges and the party’s pick is rarely opposed. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/11/opinion/topics-of-the-times-surrogate-democracy.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">For half a century</a>, Queens Democratic Party heads have successfully avoided a primary for the powerful Surrogate’s Court post, but if a rogue lawyer did challenge the party’s preferred candidate, it would be helpful for Crowley to have a friendly Board of Elections commissioner, were anything related to ballot petitions or other matters to arise. This is also the case for virtually all other elected offices, where the county party runs a preferred candidate, whether for seats in the City Council, state Assembly, state Senate, and so on.</p> <p>The fact that Queens court appointments are notoriously handed out to a select few lawyers by judges that have the backing and support of Crowley’s machine makes the arrangement particularly questionable, according to one election attorney who spoke on the condition of anonymity.</p> <p>"There doesn't seem to be any reason that [Jose Miguel Araujo] should to be sitting there as a commissioner while he is getting all these appointments. No one can say getting a job as a surrogate in a particular county is unrelated to the politics of the county," said the lawyer. “They have to like you, or you're not getting that job.”</p> <p>The Queens judicial courts have been plagued by charges of cronyism and patronage <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nyregion/in-queens-political-center-is-in-surrogates-court.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">for decades</a>. Surrogate’s and Supreme Court judges, hand-picked by party leaders, assign lucrative and easy cases to a small group of lawyers with connections to the Queens County Democratic Party machine. However, besides Araujo, no other sitting Board of Elections commissioner has been handed court appointments since being confirmed to the BOE.</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, said the Queens Surrogate’s Courts have been used as a reward system for the party machine for too long and that it’s time for the proper authorities, in this case New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to step in. “The scandal and corruption risk around Queens Surrogate’s has reached a level of outrageousness that’s unacceptable," he said. "It’s turned into a kind of a punchline in good government and political circles."</p> <p>A Board of Elections commissioner taking payment for these court assignments may also violate the city’s conflict of interest law. <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/html/law/law_chap_68_dir.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chapter 68</a> of New York City’s Charter limits the types of outside work public servants who practice law can pursue. For example, public servants may not use their city positions for “financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect” -- which would be the case if Araujo’s influence at the BOE was the driving force behind his recent appointments -- according to a 2001 advisory opinion from COIB. They also may not represent private clients that have business dealings before the City, according to the same opinion. While Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court are state agencies, if a Surrogate's Court estate proceeding results in a property sale, that sale would be conducted by the Queens Public Administrator's Office, which is a city agency.</p> <p>The Queens public administrator also has ties to the Democratic party machine. The sole counsel to Queens Public Administrator Lois Rosenblatt is Gerard Sweeney, who takes a hefty percentage of each sale referred by the courts. Sweeney -- who in the 1990s was the party’s law chair, charged with ensuring party favorites wound up on the ballot while insurgents were disqualified -- no longer holds an official position in the Queens County Democratic Party, but was described in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a recent Daily News article</a> as its “most important strategist, helping guide the party’s political machinations on the homefront as it jousts for influence in City Hall and Albany.”</p> <p>Sweeney has reportedly earned $30 million since 2006 for administering these sales referred by Surrogate’s Court, according to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawyers-controlled-queens-dems-party-30-years-article-1.3017007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Daily News</a>. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was herself fined $3,000 <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/05/10/two-city-officials-slapped-with-ethics-violations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">earlier this month</a>&nbsp;by the COIB for nepotism.</p> <p>In at least one case, Araujo did represent a client who had business before the public administrator. On November 10, 2011, Araujo was appointed “guardian ad litem” in Queens Surrogate's Court for the estate of Josephine Ralton, a 92-year-old woman who had died in 2009 with no clear heirs. Eight days later, the Queens Public Administrator sold Ralton's luxury Forest Hills apartment. Araujo received a $3,000 payment from Queens Surrogate's Court for his work on the case, according to court records.</p> <p>Reached by phone, Araujo first denied having received court appointments in recent years. After being reminded that in fact the bulk of his appointments occurred in 2015 and 2016, he said some of cases were done pro-bono because of his “expertise.”</p> <p>But court records show that only a single appointment throughout Araujo's career has ever gone unpaid - a guardianship for Dorothy Noto Lewis, a BOE employee, in April 2016. When Gotham Gazette pointed out that Araujo had in fact earned nearly $70,000 from Surrogate’s Court and Supreme Court in the last two years, Araujo cited <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefjudge/36.shtml#02" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the court’s rules</a>, which limits how much one attorney can earn from court appointments in a calendar year, saying he is “capped out at a certain amount.”</p> <p>Araujo said he sees no potential conflicts of interest which could arise from holding the part-time but influential job as Board of Elections commissioner while also benefiting from Surrogate’s appointments. "There is no conflict for me. I'm able to distinguish between the two and I’m able to recuse myself if necessary, but that hasn't happened and it hasn't been necessary," he said.</p> <p>Like other BOE commissioners, Araujo’s work includes voting on whether candidates are eligible for the election ballot. This often includes petition signature validation and cases of petition fraud or irregularity. Commissioners also supervise recounts and oversee numerous issues that impact the voter turnout for elections, including the viability and location of poll sites.</p> <p>These calls are supposed to be impartial, but the notoriously <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">complex system</a> often favors the incumbent or party’s prefered candidates, while outsiders -- who may be less experienced in electoral requirements or lack resources and access to select election lawyers -- are booted off the ballot.</p> <p>Araujo maintains that the uptick in court appointments was merited because he is an expert in kinship cases. Meanwhile, he chose to keep his Board of Elections commissioner job, which comes with influence and a salary not to exceed $30,000 per year, according to <a href="http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/GBOLWebsite/GreenBook/Details?orgId=2852" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a city listing</a>.</p> <p>As the election attorney put it, “There are many, many attorneys who could be appointed to do this job. It would be fair to say that if someone is getting these kinds of referrals from Surrogate's Court [and Supreme Court], they shouldn’t be on the Board of Elections. It’s not like BOE commissioners earn $250,000 a year and people are falling over themselves to get that job.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Rep. Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chair, declined to comment on the distribution of Queens court appointments.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>