Update: Ling-Cohan was elected without opposition at the Manhattan Democrats judicial nominating convention Thursday night’s (Sept.22).
The screening of Manhattan Justice Doris Ling-Cohan for a second term on the bench was marred by a panel member who openly stated that, rather than following the 22-member panel’s rules, she would vote “my conscience.”
One panelist, who requested anonymity, had a firm recollection of what happened. In response to the reading of the standard that applied to the panel’s deliberations, a second panelist, whom the source identified as Brenda Gill, quoted her as saying, “I don’t care what the standard is, I am voting my conscience.”
Gill declined to comment upon the other panelists’ remarks, stating this matter “has been blown way out of proportion with political factions pushing their agenda, misstating facts and coloring things to support their versions of the facts.”
Under the Manhattan Democratic Party’s rules, the panel must measure judges against their own record and determine that it “merits continuation in office.” Candidates, vying for an open seat, face a more exacting test in that they must show that they are the most highly qualified within the pool of aspirants for the post.” NY Co. Dems Rules, p.6. Highlighted para. (4).
A second panelist confirmed the essential outlines of what the first reported Gill as saying. The second panelist reported checking with yet a third panelist, who recalled the incident with more specific detail.
The second panelist, however, described Gill’s remarks as “off-hand” and “inconsequential.” Gill consistently voted against candidates, who had temperament problems, that source said, warning that some factions were spinning what happened during the deliberations to their advantage.
The two panelists, who spoke to me directly, also reported that Cyril K. Bedford, the panel’s administrator, let Gill’s remark stand uncorrected and made no effort to ascertain whether she would, in fact, follow the applicable standard. Bedford did not respond to requests for comment.
Normally, panel deliberations are confidential, but after the controversy over the disapproval of Ling-Cohan on Aug. 30 became public, and the source of heated controversy, Manhattan’s Democratic Party County Leader Keith Wright and Curtis Arluck, the chair of the Manhattan Judiciary party, issued statements releasing the panelists from their confidentiality obligation.
These latest developments have surfaced with the party’s nominating convention poised to vote this evening on which of 21 eligible candidates will receive the party’s nomination for six open seats on the Manhattan Supreme Court. In a rare move tacitly accepted to by the party’ executive committee, Ling-Cohan’s name is being permitted to be put before the convention’s 84 delegates even though she has not received the screening panel’s approval.
Clear-Cut Violation of Rule
Whether Gill’s remark was casual or reflected an intent to defy the correct standard for evaluating an incumbent candidate is inconsequential. Here’s why.
What makes Gill’s reported statement so significant is that it runs directly afoul of a clear-cut party rule, forbidding the appointment of a panelist, who “shall not have agreed to follow the guidelines established by the Committee.” NY Co. Dems Rules, p. 5 Highlighted para. (2). The rule is stronger than a “guideline” issued by the County Party’s Committee because it is a part of the New York County Democrats official rules on file with the New York City Board of Elections.
Further, under the official rules, the panel’s report must be submitted to the Judiciary Committee “immediately” for a determination that the report complies with “these Rules and the Guidelines established by the Committee.”NY Co. Dems Rules, p.6, Highlighted para. (5) .
The Judiciary Committee promptly accepted the panel’s report, and a public rally was held on Sept. 6 denouncing Ling-Cohan’s rejection. Curtis Arluck, a co-chairman of the party’s Judiciary Committee, was quoted in news articles published the next day, Sept. 7 that the decision was final but that the Judiciary Committee would explore whether it could be overturned.
Over the next two weeks, the Judiciary Committee took no action to overturn the ruling, and, to the contrary, relied upon a party rule that expressly states that the panel “shall have no power to make any change in its report after the final meeting.” NY Co.Dems Rules p.6, Highlighted para. (5).
The problem here is that the Judiciary Committee DID ACCEPT the report and has steadfastly refused to examine the merits of many of the improprieties alleged by Ling-Cohan and a substantial majority of the panel members in letters written to the Judiciary Committee in letters dated Sept. 7, Sept. 11 and Sept. 14.
Further, the party’s rules are quite clear that the report may not be accepted unless they “comply” with all applicable rules. NY Co. Dems Rules, p.6. Highlighted para. (5). Many alleged departures from the rules have been cited in the three letters sent by panel members to the Judiciary Committee. The Sept. 7 letter, which contains the substance of the panelists’ concerns, mentions that at “least one panel” member, who was not identified, stated he or she would not follow the guidelines.
Not following the required standard for review stands in direct and unambiguous conflict with members’ required commitment to follow the rules. The convention will vote as planned tonight and party insiders are confident that Ling-Cohan will be elected without opposition.
That is good for her, but not good for the panel system, which is pretty much in tatters after more than two-weeks of heated controversy. There is no time to conduct an inquiry before the vote takes place, which makes it all the more imperative that the party conduct a full investigation and make public its findings and recommended remedial measures.