On election night, when most voters were concentrating on battles for congressional seats and governors’ mansions, New York City voters cast ballots for 47 new and incumbent judges serving in the city’s Supreme, Civil and Surrogate’s courts.
While most of the candidates ran unopposed for their seats, there were some competitive races: on Staten Island, Matthew Titone, a Democrat serving in the State Assembly who launched his own law firm 20 years ago, squeaked out a win for Surrogate’s Court judge against Ron Castorina Jr., a Republican and also a state Assemblyman.
“Who would have thought an openly gay, liberal, Democrat like me would win an island-wide race?” Titone said following his victory, the Staten Island Advance reported.
According to unofficial vote counts on the New York City Board of Elections website, there were more than 129,600 total votes cast in the race, and Titone beat Castorina by 1,930 votes.
Brooklyn also has a new Surrogate’s Court judge: Justice Harriet Thompson who won the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s backing for the seat and ran unopposed.
Surrogate’s Court judges, who serve 14-year terms, play a somewhat obscure, yet powerful role: they are tasked with handling all estates and probates matters in their respective counties, as well as handling the unclaimed property of people who die without wills.
They also have the power to appoint attorneys to handle estates and approve those attorneys’ fees, a system that has been abused at times in the five boroughs as a way to pay out connected lawyers.
For example, in 2005, the Commission on Judicial Conduct called for the removal of Brooklyn Surrogate’s Judge Michael Feinberg after it was determined he awarded $2 million in fees to a politically connected law school classmate.
A blue-ribbon commission formed to study the courts issued a report that same year stating that some Surrogate’s Court judges “candidly admitted to political and personal ties with appointees they had selected,” which “gives rise to a public perception of an opaque system that operates on the basis of connections and cronyism.”
Also running unopposed in Brooklyn was Anne Swern, a longtime prosecutor who made an unsuccessful run for district attorney last year, who was elected to the Civil Court.
Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, who serves on the Appellate Division, Second Department, was re-elected to her seat, as were state Supreme Court Justices Michelle Weston, Eric Prus, Wayne Saitta, Ingrid Joseph, Lisa Ottley and Devin Cohen.
Queens voters also re-elected Justice Valerie Brathwaite Nelson, who also sits on the Second Department; and Civil Court Judge Ushir Pandit-Durant, who in 2015 became the first South Asian woman to be elected to the bench in Queens, to the state Supreme Court.
In the Bronx, voters elected or re-elected to the state Supreme Court Ben Barbato, Mary Ann Brigantti, Eddie McShan, Marsha Michael, Julio Rodriguez III, Llinét Rosado, Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Torres.
And Manhattan voters picked Alexander Tisch and Lynn Kotler, who are both acting Supreme Court justices; and Civil Court Judge Mary Rosado to serve on the state Supreme Court.