For the Average Voter, Judicial Candidate Info Is Hard to Find

By David Brand

With just a few days left before Election Day, New York City is buzzing with election guides, up-to-the-minute polling and vigorous get-out-the-vote efforts, but one key elected office is missing from the typical voter prospectus: judges

The city and state Board of Elections and the Unified Court System (UCS) share relatively little information about judicial candidates and Queens, in particular, has a poor record of transparency. Of the eleven judicial candidates running in Queens, only two submitted brief biographies to the UCS.

Civil Court Judge Robert Caloras — a Democrat running for Queens Supreme Court — and Ira Greenberg — a Democrat running for Civil Court — each submitted short biographies for the Unified Court System Voter Guide.

In an email, UCS Office of Court Administration spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told the Eagle that UCS cannot compel judicial candidates to respond to the brief questionnaire.

“We don’t control the election process, the New York State Board of Elections does,” Chalfen said. “They are candidates like any other for public office. Of course submitting a short bio would be preferred, but it is not something we can require.”

As of press time Friday, the Board of Elections did not respond to request for comment.

The UCS Voter Guide questionnaire includes spaces for candidates to write a “personal statement,” and share information about their education, “current occupation

or employer,” “prior professional experience” among other biographical details.

Only two other candidates submitted a biography to the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission, a statewide network of independent panels that screen and rate judicial candidates, City Limits Magazine reported last month.

Those candidates are Karina Alomar, a candidate for Queens Civil Court Judge and Civil Court Judge Maureen Healy, a candidate for Queens Supreme Court.

Betsy Gotbaum, the executive director of good government group Citizens Union said it was a “disgrace” that more candidates did not submit bios.

“Candidates for any elected office should at the very least make an attempt to introduce themselves to the voters,” Gotbaum said. “With all the money that is currently pumped into our election process, it's a shame that such little attention is paid to crucial judicial contests, and almost nothing is done to educate voters about the candidates running.”

Civil court candidates also include Democrats Lourdes Ventura, an attorney, and Lance Evans, a Court Attorney-Referee in the Queens Foreclosure Conference Part.

The other Supreme Court candidates are Democrat Larry Love, a current Civil Court Judge; Democrat Ushir Pandit-Durant, a current Civil Court judge; incumbent Supreme Court Justice Valerie Brathwaite-Nelson, who is running for reelection on the Democratic and Republican lines; and Republican Joseph Kasper, an attorney.

When Love first ran for office in 2012, he submitted a bio describing his experience as a private attorney and lifelong Queens Queens resident.

In October, Love spoke with the Eagle about his career, commitment to justice and diversity in Queens.

“I’d like to think that people at this point, no matter their background, feel they’re getting a fair shake and understanding the process and getting opportunities to have their cases heard on the merits,” Love said. “One of the nice things about Queens is there’s a comfort level that when you go into court you’re going to get your case heard fairly.”

Pandit-Durant also spoke with the Eagle about her experience as the first judge of South Asian descent in Queens history as well as her role as founding president of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens.

After practicing law for more than 25 years, Pandit-Durant said she values serving as a mentor to younger generations of attorneys.

“I felt that it was important to give back to the community and to be a mentor to young lawyers, whether they are South Asian or not,” she said.