A former Brooklyn judge who wasn’t nominated for re-election in 2016 and who sued party leaders when negative assessments about her time on the bench were leaked to the press has been dealt a defeat in her legal battle as a federal judge has found she is not entitled to a “fair shot” to get on the ballot.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall of the Eastern District of New York to dismiss former state Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson’s suit against Brooklyn Democratic Party leaders and the party’s judicial screening committee comes just days after the party came together to pick three Civil Court candidates to appear on the November ballot through a legal yet opaque process that has repeatedly drawn criticism from voters, good government groups and editorial boards.
In the months before the 2016 primary election, the party’s judicial screening committee, which rarely recommends against keeping a sitting judge on the bench, found that Jacobson, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 2002, was not qualified for re-election.
The screening committee is made up of 25 lawyers from various bar groups, legal service providers and the academy who assess judicial candidates before the party’s convention for picking candidates to appear on the general election ballot.
According to court papers, the committee advised Jacobson that she could withdraw her candidacy, which would prevent the screening committee’s findings from getting reported to the party’s executive committee.
Following an unsuccessful appeal of the screening committee’s findings, Jacobson withdrew her candidacy.
But in July 2016, the New York Post ran stories on the screening committee’s determination on Jacobson and quoting anonymous sources who said Jacobson was “not the brightest bulb in the courthouse” and that the judge was “so disliked and considered so judicially mediocre that the committee found her unqualified, and then rejected her appeal.”
Jacobson sued party leaders and screening committee members alleging libel and that the defendants violated internal rules for picking candidates for the ballot, which in turn violated her equal protection rights.
In her suit, Jacobson denied the Post’s report that her rulings had been flipped on appeal 57 times over a decade time frame, arguing that an “infinitesimal” number of the 4,000 orders she has issued since 2006 have been reversed by a higher court.
Further, Jacobson alleged, some of her actions on the bench got her into hot water with Democratic Party leadership.
For one, Jacobson said in her complaint that she reduced the amount of counsel fees paid to Steven Finkelstein, who is both a member of the screening committee and counsel to the Brooklyn Public Administrator, who Jacobson said was charging excessive fees.
Jacobson alleges that she again ran afoul of party bosses in 2014, when she granted a temporary restraining order to block the State University of New York from selling Long Island College Hospital over the objections of Frank Carone, a partner at Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf who represented SUNY and who serves as counsel to the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s executive committee.
Carone told the Law Journal in 2016 that the claims contained in Jacobson’s complaint amounted to nothing more than “innuendo” and a “smear campaign.”
But two years after Jacobson filed the suit, Hall granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, rejecting Jacobson’s argument that the party was acting under color of state law. She also said that Jacobson is arguing that she has been deprived of a “fair shot” to get on the ballot, for which Hall said there is no constitutional guarantee.
“We appreciate the court’s well-reasoned memorandum and order that the Kings County Democratic Party properly followed its rules that it can only endorse judicial candidates found qualified by the independent screening panel,” Carone said Thursday regarding Hall’s ruling.
Ravi Batra, Jacobson’s lawyer, said he and his client are reviewing Hall’s decision to determine if they will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Batra said his client has brought legitimate constitutional claims and that he disagrees with Hall’s finding that Brooklyn Democratic leaders are not state actors.
“The defendants, given their essential role in election of Supreme Court justices by convening and presiding over Supreme Court judicial nominating conventions, perform public electoral functions and hence, unquestionably play an integral part in the state scheme,” Batra said.