LONSBERRY: Democrats Offer Poor Judge Choices

As Leticia Astacio became a household name, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter wanted the Monroe County Democratic Party to learn from the experience and more carefully screen and diligently support judicial candidates.

Astacio, a City Court judge who is about to be removed from office by the state Court of Appeals, has been a two-year parade of defiant and illegal behavior, turning a DWI wreck into an excruciatingly public death spiral. 

The congresswoman didn’t want any more of that.

So she asked for a reinvigoration of the county party’s Judicial Screening Committee.

She got it, kind of, but the effort she put in motion ended up with no actual power, and so it ended up with no actual accomplishments.

The problem arises from the dynamic of power within the Democratic Party. Assemblyman and congressional candidate Joe Morelle has a pretty impressive organization, but it is suburban and mostly about Joe Morelle. Assemblyman David Gantt likewise has an operation, but it is completely urban and completely about David Gantt. And Mayor Lovely Warren has a faction, probably a rising faction, but it hasn’t yet gained control of the county party.

The upshot is that none of the Democrat factions care that much about judgeships. 

And that gave rise to Leticia Astacio. 

She was not the party’s candidate the year she was elected, but the party’s support of its candidate was so incompetent that she waltzed into office, bringing dysfunction and incompetence with her.

Huge embarrassment has resulted, and the backlog at City Court has only gotten deeper.

That brings us to this election.

Louise Slaughter called for improvement, but she didn’t get it. The Monroe County Democratic Party’s four prime candidates for Monroe County judgeships are all problematic, and its fifth – for Supreme Court – is unsupported by the party.

The first problem comes this week, as Gil Perez and Mike Lopez face one another in a primary for City Court. They are vying to replace Mel Castro in what has been declared by the party a “Latino seat.” 

Neither candidate should be on the ballot.

Gil Perez pled out of a felony accusation of billing the government for work he didn’t do by paying back some $28,000 in 2014 and copping to a misdemeanor for filing a false instrument. 

Mike Lopez is under active investigation by the county bar association and the district attorney’s office for allegedly buying and using marijuana. The bar association’s investigation of a grievance filed with it was hung up until after the primary by Lopez’s defense lawyer, and the information provided the DA is described as “legit” and “actionable.”

Mike Lopez is also said to hate cops and have a hero fixation with Che Guevara. He orchestrated an anthem-kneeling protest by soccer players at World of Inquiry School in 2016.

All of which makes you wonder if the Democratic Party couldn’t have done better than these two. All of which makes you wonder if there could be troubles ahead no matter which one of them wins.

In Supreme Court, Judge Chris Ciaccio seeks advancement from County Court. As his one- or two-person parade escorts suggest, he is not going to get it. The Democrats gave him the ballot line, but nothing else.

Then there’s Family Court, where the Democratic Candidates are Fatimat Reid and Zuleika Shepard. Both seem to be excellent people, but neither seems to have any significant professional history in Family Court whatsoever. 

In fact, the thrust of the campaigns for Reid and Shepard have both been almost exclusively focused on the fact that neither of them is white. The party and various campaign supporters have said from the start that the campaign is about putting non-white judges on the bench, with their presumably unique life experiences and cultural background. 

Which is fine.

But judges should be the best lawyers with the most experience and the best demeanor.

Not people who look a certain way.

In this case, Democrats – who control all city judgeships – will put a flawed candidate on the City Court bench. And in Family Court – where the Republicans are likely to win – voters are denied a real choice because the Democratic candidates are inexperienced and one dimensional. 

You have good courts when you have good judges. And you have good judges when you have good candidates.

Louise Slaughter tried to make that happen.

But feuding Democrat bosses blocked her effort. 

And this is what you get.

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