Judge Laura Jacobson (NY Daily News)
A Brooklyn judge is suing the borough’s Democratic Party and its judicial screening committee, which did not endorse her for reelection to the bench, claiming that members of the committee defamed her by leaking to the media that the committee found her unqualified for another term.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson, who has been on the bench for 25 years and who also serves as an acting surrogate in Brooklyn, was seeking election to another 14-year term on the Supreme Court.
In July, the New York Post published an article quoting unnamed sources who said that the screening committee, which rarely recommends against keeping a sitting judge on the bench, determined that Jacobson was not qualified for reelection.
The sources said that an “abnormal” percentage of the judge’s decisions had been reversed on appeal, that she lacks work ethics and that “she’s not the brightest bulb in the courthouse.”
In a lawsuit filed Friday in the Eastern District, Jacobson alleges that the leak was made as retribution for decisions that made her fall out of favor with Brooklyn’s “Democratic political machine.”
Specifically, she alleges, she is being punished for reducing 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 says she also ran afoul of the party’s 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 at the time.
Jacobson also denied that her decision had been reversed on appeal 57 times throughout the past decade, as the Post reported, citing the anonymous sources, saying that an “infinitesimal” number of the 4,000 orders she has issued since 2006 have been reversed by a higher court.
In addition to the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the screening committee, the parties named in Jacobson v. Kings County Democratic County Committee, 16-cv-4809, include party chair Frank Seddio, who recently became president of the Brooklyn Bar Association; and Martin Edelman, a Manhattan attorney who chairs the screening committee. The Post is not a party to the suit.
Jacobson seeks $5 million for damages and attorney fees and a preliminary injunction calling on Frank Seddio to disband the screening committee.
Ravi Batra of the Law Offices of Ravi Batra, who is representing Jacobson, said the defendants’ alleged conduct toward his client is part of a larger effort to erode judicial independence.
“Without judicial independence, the separation of powers regime doesn’t work,” Batra said.
In a statement emailed to the Law Journal, Bob Liff, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Democratic Party said the selection committee is independent and that members are selected by various bar associations.
“Party leaders have no control over, and are not privy to, the committee’s deliberations and decisions,” Liff said.
Carone also serves as counsel to the party’s executive committee, which cannot endorse a candidate for the bench unless the screening committee deems them qualified for the position. Jacobson’s name was not included on the screening committee’s report to the executive committee on the fitness of judicial candidates, and thus it was not formally informed as to whether it found her qualified.
Carone said in an interview that Jacobson briefly presided over the case she cites, New York State Nurses Association v. New York State Department of Health, 5814/13, as an ex parte judge.
With respect to Jacobson’s lawsuit, Carone said that when the parties are served with subpoenas they plan to move to dismiss the suit and file counterclaims for defamation.
“All you have in this complaint is innuendo and smear campaign,” Carone said.