Meet the candidates: Brooklyn’s upcoming judicial elections
As Brooklyn residents prepare to cast their ballots in the general elections on Nov. 7, the judicial races are shaping up to be some of the most compelling. Though Brooklyn is predominantly Democratic, the election slate reveals several high-stakes races that could set a precedent for the borough’s legal system.
Brooklyn residents gearing up for the upcoming judicial elections should be aware of the courts they’ll be voting for and the term lengths for each elected position.
The Civil Court handles civil cases involving sums up to $25,000 and offers a term of 10 years for the elected judge. The Surrogate Court, responsible for probate and estate issues, has a term length of 14 years for the position. The Supreme Court in the 2nd Judicial District handles major civil and criminal cases, including felonies and large civil disputes, with a 14-year term for the judge.
A Crowded Field in the Supreme Court
The contest drawing the most attention is for justice of the Supreme Court, Second Judicial District. With six spots to fill and seven candidates on the ballot, it’s the only race featuring a Republican contender, Timothy J. Peterson. He’s up against six Democratic incumbents who also appear on the Republican line, adding another layer of complexity to the race.
Hon. Rachel E. Freier, currently an acting Supreme Court justice, is the first Hasidic woman to hold this role. Appointed in January 2023, she previously served in the Kings County Civil Court beginning in 2016.
Hon. Sharon A. B. Clarke brings more than 30 years of legal experience to the race. Elected in 2014, she has served in Criminal, Family and Civil Courts and was elevated to acting justice of the Supreme Court in 2022. Her past roles include deputy general counsel of the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Hon. Joanne D. Quiñones serves as an acting justice of the Supreme Court, Criminal Term, having been appointed in 2021. First named to the bench in 2010 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she handles both criminal and matrimonial cases in Kings County Supreme Court. Quiñones is active in multiple bar associations and legal organizations, and she has received numerous awards recognizing her commitment to justice and the community.
Hon. Caroline Piela Cohen has been an acting judge for the Family Court of the City of New York since her appointment in 2020. Elected to the Civil Court in 2019. She also brings considerable private-sector experience and began her career at the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA).
Judge Heela Capell serves in Kings County Civil Court and has a legal career spanning 18 years, which includes 13 years of experience as a judge and court attorney, along with five years as a litigator.
Saul Stein serves as a Civil Court judge for the City of New York, and prior to that, he was the principal court attorney for Supreme Court Justice David Cohen. His background is enriched with substantial private sector and commercial legal experience.
Uncontested But Not Unimportant
While most of Brooklyn’s judicial races were decided in the Democratic primaries, there are still notable candidates running unopposed who are worth watching. In the 1st Municipal Court District covering areas like Carroll Gardens and Brooklyn Heights, Rena Malik, backed by Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats and South Asians for America, is the lone candidate.
Surrogate Court Judge Hon. Bernard Graham, who is currently serving as an acting judge, seeks to make it official.
More Than Just a Bench
In other Civil Court races, Linda Wilson and Betsey Jean-Jacques bring a mix of court mediation and mental health legal service experience. Marva C. Brown, endorsed by the Brooklyn Democratic Party, brings her experience from the Legal Aid Society, while Monique J. Holaman hopes her broad legal background will secure her a seat on the bench.
Candidates like Javier Ortiz and Lola Waterman in the 3rd and 2nd Municipal Court Districts, respectively, offer unique qualifications, from public administration to matrimonial law.
The Brooklyn Bar Association Judiciary Committee Issues Ratings
The Brooklyn Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee issues ratings for each election in an effort to help voters. Judicial candidates for the Supreme Court, Civil Court and Surrogate’s Court are interviewed by a panel established by Committee Chair Andrew Fallek, a past president of the BBA. The candidates are either labeled “Approved,” “Not Approved” or “Not Approved for Failure to Participate.”
The recent ratings released on October 17 for the upcoming judicial elections reveal a majority of candidates as “Approved,” potentially offering voters guidance in a field thick with contenders. However, Babatunde Akowe in the Civil Court’s 2nd Municipal District received a “Not Approved for Failure to Participate,” while Timothy John Peterson, the lone Republican candidate for the Supreme Court’s 2nd Judicial District, was rated as “Not Approved.”
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