Prospect Lefferts

Brooklyn Democratic Party improves judicial election process with first community forum for county-endorsed candidates

Civil Court candidates convene with community stakeholders to boost engagement and education as elections near

April 21, 2023 Special from IN PUBLIC SERVICE
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PROSPECT LEFFERTS GARDENS – Election season is fast approaching with the June Primaries just two months away. While New York City is laser-focused on the City Council elections, “many are unaware that there are candidates running for civil court judge and who those candidates are or what their qualifications are.”

So says Dana Rachlin, Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s recently formed Judiciary Committee – which held their first Community Forum featuring Party-endorsed judicial candidates on Monday, April 17, at Medgar Evers College, in partnership with the College’s Dept. of Public Administration. 

The conversation featured four Civil Court Judges up for election with county-wide jurisdiction in Brooklyn, allowing viewers to take a deeper dive into the experience and temperament of the candidates.

The candidates:

Marva Brown, Esq.

Monique Holaman, Esq. 

Turquoise Haskin, Esq.

Betsey Jean-Jacques, Esq

Read our coverage of the Party’s endorsed candidates here.

“We’re proud to have endorsed four highly-qualified and diverse candidates, all of whom are women of color,” says Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn,” and the Community Forums allow us to promote diversity and inclusion by amplifying the voices of these candidates who can serve the needs of all Brooklynites fairly and impartially.”

Brooklyn Democratic Party Endorsed Civil Court Candidates (left to right) Monique Holaman, Turquoise Haskin, Betsey Jean-Jacques, and Marva Brown, with Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn attending virtually (background). Photo: Brooklyn Democratic Party.

Assessing Personal and Professional Qualifications 

“As a Party, we are committed to ensuring that voters know who the candidates are, their qualifications, and how their personal and professional experiences will inform their work on the bench,” Dana Rachlin said.

The public was invited, “but there is a focus on engaging stakeholders most affected by the court’s decisions; representing people from youth and victims of crime to tenant activists to law enforcement and public health experts,” Rachlin added.

Participating from the public was Dominic DuPont, a renowned criminal justice reform advocate, and nephew of the late Michael K. Williams. “As someone who has facilitated countless seminars and discussions with judges on ways to keep communities safe, it was a great opportunity to connect with candidates,” said DuPont.


Revamped Endorsement Process Involves ‘Unprecedented’ Community Input

Democratic judicial candidates in NYC’s heavily blue boroughs, especially with the borough’s official party endorsement, “don’t get as much public attention as they deserve — and that includes the community asking tough questions,” said Bichotte Hermelyn.

It may seem counterintuitive for a Party to invite the public to ask “tough questions” to its endorsed candidates, but it encompasses a larger overhaul of the Party’s entire judicial election process.

The newly-formed ad-hoc Judiciary Committee adds a level of “unprecedented community involvement” to the process.

Party Chair Bichotte Hermelyn remains confident about the Democratic Party’s thorough endorsement and vetting process, which involves a Judicial Screening Committee that vets candidates for professional competence.

(Left to right) Brooklyn Democratic Party District Leaders Felix Ceballos (AD 53); Sarana Purcell (AD 43); Dana Rachlin (AD 50); Shaquana Boykin (AD 57); and Michael Boomer (AD 57). Photo: Brooklyn Democratic Party.

A Vital Community Liaison

The Judiciary Committee, composed of five District Leaders, serves as a vital liaison to help ensure candidates are not only professionally qualified but also “culturally competent and forward-thinking problem-solvers,” says Rachlin.

“We want to make sure there is more transparency, equity and inclusion in the largest county party,” said Committee Member and DL Kenesha Tranyham Cooper. “We want to not only raise our voter registration but make sure everyone has an opportunity to actually meet who we decided to endorse as a Party.”

The crowd of in-person attendees at Medgar Evers College. Photo: Brooklyn Democratic Party.

Highlights of the Forum

Judiciary Committee Member and District Leader Kenesha Traynham-Cooper (AD 56). Photo: Brooklyn Democratic Party.

For nearly two hours, the candidates spoke in-depth on a wide array of issues, with a focus on their knowledge of Family Court, Criminal Court, their administrative skills including courtroom calendar and management, and both accessibility and advisability of pro se litigants.

They also focused on issues facing Brooklynites, including addressing crime, reforming the penal system, and ending the backlog of the court system. 

One overarching focus was court accessibility on nearly all levels, from candidates’ vowing to ensure the courts are ADA-compliant to “making sure court staff are culturally competent,” as candidate Betsey Jean Jacques put it.


Handling Issues as Diverse as the City

Civil Court Judges may not be as attention-grabbing as a City Council candidate, but the Court “handles cases dealing with issues as diverse as the population of the City it serves,” according to the NYC Civil Court site.

Many might not know that “The Civil Court is the largest civil jurisdiction court, by volume, in the United States,” the Court states. “Our Housing Part, also the largest of its type in the Country, has averaged about 350,000 filings a year for the past 20 years, while our Small Claims Part has averaged about 50,000 cases during the past two decades.”

Judges serve 10-year terms and have jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases and claims up to $25,000, along with small claims for the informal resolution of cases involving amounts of up to $10,000.

The Second Community Forum allowed “people most impacted by the criminal legal system to ask significant questions to the candidates but also gain valuable insights before they cast their ballots as we increase voters’ participation and knowledge,” concluded Dana Rachlin.

Watch the entire Forum here.

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