Chantel Jackson: We Deserve Transparent process in Electing Judges

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[Democratic Nominee Chantel Jackson\NYS 79th]
Jackson: "Our constituents deserve to know how their judges are selected. They deserve to be invited to the spaces where those selections are made."
Photo: Twitter

The following statement was made by Chantel Jackson a Democratic nominee for NYS 79th Assembly District:

The New York State Democratic Committee, Bronx County, held their judicial convention on August 10, 2020, at Monroe College in the Bronx. I attended as a newly elected democratic party nominee for the 79th Assembly District with four judicial delegates from my district. Only one of the seven delegates I ran on my slate received a letter to attend this convention.

The rest were informed by me to show up ready to cast a vote. We were all excited and nervous, seeing that this was our very first convention. This year, three individuals were nominated to fill vacancies for Justices of The Supreme Court of The State of New York, 12th Judicial District. The three individuals were New York City Councilmember Andrew Cohen, Civil Court Judge Bianka Perez, and Civil Court Judge Kim Wilson. The nominees will be running under the Democratic ticket in November.

Other judicial delegates and elected officials attended via zoom. The delegates who were present were met with separate stacks of copies of resumes for each of the three candidates.

Because there were only three candidates for consideration, they were nominated by default since there was no alternative candidate to consider. There was no opportunity to review resumes or consider qualifications prior to the convention. A hasty vote was taken for a one-way race in each nomination. There was no true opportunity for any of the delegates to ask questions or even oppose the nomination. One of the delegates said, “I didn’t want to inquire too much because I wasn’t sure how many newbies were in the room. It was obvious we entered this nomination in its final stages. I was curious to know at what point in the year did the process begin, in terms of candidate selection.” No one explained the process to us or made themselves available for questions beforehand. We witnessed different people read off of a script as their names were called to recite their part.

I expected to witness an open competitive process where several candidates would be produced, their qualifications would be discussed, and judicial delegates after being informed on the choices could consider and vote for the most qualified individuals. Judicial delegates are the representatives of the general electorate. They are trusted to select qualified, efficient, and well-prepared judges to represent the Democratic Party at the general election.

A democratic selection process ensures fairness for our communities and produces independently thinking judges. This is important because they will wield immense power and discretion. The Bronx has 1.5 million residents. We must have many qualified attorneys for judicial positions living here. Are these individuals truly included in the selection process? Are they encouraged to apply for these positions? Is the County Committee actively recruiting outside their immediate political network for qualified individuals?

It appears that we don’t have an openly transparent competitive process to elect Justices to the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The delegates have no opportunity to deliberate over choices. This rushed almost forced process gives the appearance of exclusivity and lack of transparency. This reinforces negative stereotypes of old-fashioned business as usual machine politics.

Our constituents deserve to know how their judges are selected. They deserve to be invited to the spaces where those selections are made. Inclusivity will enforce equal access to justice and will encourage trust in our judiciary and the people who make decisions that affect Bronxite’s livelihoods and freedom.

These justices may end up presiding over serious felonies. Felony charges like the ones that are lodged against young men like the late Kalief Browder, who took his own life after suffering the trauma of incarceration, jail violence, and from the emotional pain caused by the lingering, eventually dismissed, criminal case prosecuted by District Attorney Robert Johnson. Justices assigned to the Supreme Court may be responsible for sentencing defendants to decades of incarceration in prisons located several hours away from the Bronx, leaving many families to exist in single-parent homes.

If we are to have true criminal justice reform and changes that will bring true fairness, then the people of Bronx County deserve a say in who gets to make these decisions. The county democratic committee will have to ensure active community outreach in which judicial delegates make decisions with sufficient information. The county organization must take an active role in recruiting highly qualified attorneys who have long term community ties in this county and who are not just politically connected but rather people of service and integrity who are vested in the success of our communities. I am certain any truly qualified candidate compelled to run for election to the court would be open to have their qualifications and legitimacy examined by the persons responsible for saying yay or nay during the judicial convention.

These are important issues that need to be addressed by the rising county committee leadership. Transparency and inclusion of all members of our party will move the entire county in a good direction and in solidarity. Innovative community civic engagement is the way to ensure that the years of being accused of a reputation for exclusivity, secrecy, and lack of transparency end with past administrations and will ensure trust and confidence in all the candidates it supports going forward. I am looking forward to not only legislating on behalf of my neighbors in the 79th Assembly District but also to building strong relationships that will encourage and welcome an involved and knowledgeable electorate.

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