Thursday, December 21, 2006

Vito Lopez Continues the Corruption

In the past I have touched on the sad corruption in my own Brooklyn Democratic Party. Well, since then the head of this corrupt machine, Clarence Norman, was convicted on several corruption charges. That is progress. But the new head of the Brooklyn Democrats is Vito Lopez, who was a close ally of the now convicted Clarence Norman, is the new Democratic Party Boss for Brooklyn. Meet the new boss? Same as the old boss? According to Vito Lopez and his allies, Vito is untainted by corruption and will be a reformer. But, sad to say, this is not true. Vito Lopez is nothing more than a more organized version of Clarence Norman's corruption.

Vito Lopez was an integral part of Clarence Norman’s corrupt machine, and together they did their best to ruin the career of reform-minded judge Margarita Lopez Torrez after Lopez Torres refused to appoint a crony of Vito Lopez.

From New York Civic:

Ironically, it was the actions of ex-Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic leader Clarence Norman, until his felony conviction in fall 2005, and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, his successor, that began the chain of circumstances that led to this decision. When Margarita Lopez-Torres was elected to a county-wide Civil Court in Brooklyn in 1993 on the recommendation of Vito Lopez, she rejected every job applicant sent to her by the county organization, including Mr. Lopez' daughter who sought employment as a law secretary. The payback for this defiance was the county's refusal to designate her for re-election when her term expired in 2003. She ran anyway, winning re-nomination in a sharply contested Democratic primary. The next year, she sought the county designation for Supreme Court Justice, which was decided by a judicial convention, not a primary. Predictably, the county organization turned her down although she was among the longest serving judges on the civil court.

In the spring of 2005 the position of Surrogate suddenly became vacant when Justice Michael Feinberg was removed for corruption by the Court of Appeals, upholding the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. You can find details of l'affaire Feinberg on our website; just google his name. The vacancy thus created came in time to be filled by a primary. Three candidates competed, and Judge Torres won by an extremely narrow margin, some 200 votes.

And from the Daily News:

Brooklyn's ex-boss, convicted felon Clarence Norman, and its new Dem boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, did their best to knock Lopez Torres out of a Civil Court position and to block her from a more powerful Supreme Court seat. To her credit, Lopez Torres kept running for Supreme Court and became the public face of reform…

There's a good chance the state's party bosses will use Albany to recapture control of the judge-making machinery. (Four out of five of the city's Democratic county bosses, after all, are members of the Assembly.)

That means reform-minded political clubs and ambitious but honest lawyers need to hit the streets and start campaigning for Supreme Court - this year, while the historic window of opportunity is still open.

In addition to the cronyism that got Margarita Lopez Torrez in trouble with Vito Lopez, Vito has favored his girlfriend with lucrative development deal in 2004 and gave his girlfriend’s brother a judicial position. From Lambda Independent Democrats:

The lengthy lead story in the Real Estate section [of the NY Times] credited Lopez with sparking a massive rebuilding effort in Bushwick, way back when he was a graduate student in 1971, and then carrying it through. The story also mentioned that Angela Battaglia's agency is the developer for a $20 million component of the rebuilding effort. It even pictured Lopez and Battaglia standing together in front of new housing construction. But the story omitted that Battaglia is Lopez's girlfriend. Does that connection at least deserve mention? Might the article have explained why there was or wasn't a conflict of interest present? Was it a coincidence that Lopez's girlfriend's outfit was put in charge of the $20 million deal? Inquiring minds would like to know. It may well be that everything was done on the up-and-up. But given Lopez's tendency to do favors for his friends-for example, he helped make his girlfriend's brother Jack Battaglia a Civil Court judge-the Times should have explored the question.

And despite claims from Vito Lopez and his followers that the new boss is different from the old, not convicted, boss, so far Vito Lopez has been right there in the middle of the judicial corruption of the Norman machine.

From the Daily News:

Livin' la Vito Lopez

Declaring that he saw no evil and heard no evil, former Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman says he can speak no evil about corruption among the borough's judges. He'll not be talking to District Attorney Charles Hynes anytime soon, so hopes for quick disinfection have faded for the moment.

Just as dispiriting, party regulars chose as the convicted Norman's successor Assemblyman Vito Lopez, an old-time ward heeler from Bushwick who has never shown a zeal for reform until, gee whiz, now. He vows the party will consult a panel of learned men and women, such as Brooklyn Law School's dean, about picking quality judges.

We've seen this movie before, and the ending stinks. Two years ago, Norman and party district leaders, Lopez included, pledged they would never support a candidate for a judgeship who had not been approved by an independent screening commission. This year, for the first time, the panel reviewed Civil Court candidates.

And guess what? The party shoehorned two lawyers onto the bench without any screening. Kenny Sherman, son of district leader Roberta Sherman, will get a 10-year Civil Court term without so much as a primary. And Canarsie Assemblyman Frank Seddio was awarded an uncontested ballot line for Surrogate's Court. So much for quality control. So much for keeping your word.

And Vito Lopez has his own legal problems. From the November, 25, 2005 NY Post via Judicial Accountability:

Instead, say the activists, Lopez for years has shacked up in a Queens condo owned by his girlfriend, Planning Commissioner Angela Battaglia, who also happens to be executive director of a housing nonprofit Lopez founded.

A spokesman confirmed that the district attorney had received the complaint, dated Oct. 24, but declined to say if an investigation has begun.

Falsifying a voter-registration address is a felony…

Property records show that the address where Lopez is registered to vote, 64 Conselyea St. in Williamsburg, is owned by a woman named Tillie Tarantino.

Tarantino is executive director of the Swinging 60s Senior Center in Greenpoint, which is funded by a Lopez-backed nonprofit…

Vito Lopez seems embroiled in corruption and cronyism on a level similar to the kind I rail at the Bush Administration and Republicans for. Considering Vito Lopez a reformer is similar to the Republicans declaring Tom DeLay’s replacement, John Boehner (R-Ohio), a reformer. It just isn’t true! I don’t believe apologists for Republican corruption and I refuse to believe apologists for Democratic corruption either. The Brooklyn Democrats are in desperate need of reform and Vito Lopez is NOT the person to do it except through his indictment for his own corruption.
Daily Gotham

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Vito's Thanks for Republican Pataki's Endorsement

"HERE IS A look at some of Gov. Pataki's last-minute appointments.
Judgeships on Court of Claims, which pay $136,700 annually:
Gina Lopez Summa, the daughter of powerful Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), who crossed party lines to endorse Pataki. She is general counsel for the state Division of Human Rights, and her court term would end next year." - Daily News, December 13, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006


"Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council: $173,112 for seven member items. The council was founded by Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, whose name is listed on six of the grants, including one solo entry. That grant is for $55,000 to fund the Bushwick Observer, a newspaper that critics have chided for its laudatory coverage of Lopez." - Daily News, November 30, 2006


"Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council: $173,112 for seven member items. The council was founded by Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, whose name is listed on six of the grants, including one solo entry. That grant is for $55,000 to fund the Bushwick Observer, a newspaper that critics have chided for its laudatory coverage of Lopez." - Daily News, Novermber 30, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Impossible Dream

By Jason Boog, Judicial Reports,
Posted 08-20-2008

A Brooklyn judicial delegate has mounted a campaign to clean up the judge picking process.

In his concurrence with the unanimous 2008 decision upholding New York’s system for selecting judges, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens famously invoked an observation by his former colleague, Thurgood Marshall: “The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws.”

In the first judicial election since that ruling, a Brooklyn judicial convention delegate — one of the privileged 141 Supreme Court choosers hand-picked by the Borough’s Democratic Party leaders — has declared war on the whole “stupid” system.

“It’s really an anointment process,” said delegate Chris Owens, one of the delegates who will pick candidates to fill three openings on the Kings County Supreme Court in the September convention.

“If we are going to have an appointment system, let’s call it that,” Owens continued. “If we’re going to make it an election, let’s make it an election we can be proud of. ”

So far, Owens has raised $2,000 for his campaign to increase awareness of the judicial delegate system. He plans to distribute flyers to help make the public see just how tricked-up the labyrinthine process really is.

Working independently, Owens has produced a webpage featuring a manifesto against the delegate system, complete with a world music soundtrack on which the political activist sings a political anthem he wrote entitled, “Love Is the Way.” Owens also has set up a Facebook group for his campaign, collecting 212 members as of this writing.

An unaffiliated gadfly? A member of the lunatic fringe? Hardly.

The son of a former U.S. Congressman, Owens is president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a powerful political club in the Borough.


The Don Quixote delegate can collect a thousand Facebook friends and print a million flyers, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lopez-Torres v. New York State Board of Elections virtually guaranteed that the windmills of the party boss system will keep on spinning for some time to come. Indeed, Owens himself is part of a slate of delegates who will enter the judicial convention uncontested — a testament to the smoothness of the Democratic Party’s machinery in Brooklyn.

Following New York State Election Law, judicial delegates such as Owens — picked from political clubs, influential organizations, and activist groups — effectively endorse the party leader’s choice at a scripted convention. In the overwhelmingly Democratic constituencies in New York City, that endorsement is tantamount to election.

Unless the political parties decide to change their rules or the State Legislature drafts a new system, the judicial delegate process will stand forever in New York State.

“I will use the fact I am going into this [convention] to publicize the meeting,” said Owens, “ to highlight a process that is insular and not particularly transparent to the public. I don’t even know what the [judicial candidate] menu is going to be, and that in and of itself, is a problem for me . . . and here we are one of the biggest counties in the United States.”

A number of delegates and political leaders concede the autocratic nature of the process.

“In Brooklyn, I can’t even remember where there’s been a judicial delegate race,” said Alan Fleishman, the Democratic District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District, where Owens is serving as delegate. With very rare exceptions, the same can be said for the other four boroughs.

“At least [Owens] is keeping the [judicial selection reform] flame alive,” added political consultant Gary Tilzer. “I don’t see anybody else saying that. Not one elected official.”

Tilzer helped then-Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres during her bids for the Supreme Court nomination. After five judicial convention shutouts, she filed her historic lawsuit.

Despite his admiration for Owens’s campaign, Tilzer was pessimistic about his prospects.

“When you don’t even have any opposition to the District Leader, how are you going to get opposition to [the Leader’s] judicial delegates?” he said. “It’s a total shut-down of the judicial system.”


When pressed for historic examples of delegate dissent, Tilzer recalled how a coalition of 10 Brooklyn reform clubs attempted to run an oppositional slate of delegates against the Party delegates in the 1970s. They could only muster about 40 delegates at the convention, well below the number needed to actually sway the nomination process.

“It is what it is. The candidates have been nominated, and we give them a rubber stamp of approval,” said Karen Johnson, a 52nd District Delegate and Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Congressman Ed Towns. “You’re always free to challenge the pack. Right now, there’s nobody challenging the status quo. It’s a little mundane.”

“The [political] clubs are representative of different areas and constituencies in our district, and we try to come up with a representative sample of activists in our community,” said Fleishman when asked how he helps pick the 11 delegates who will attend the judicial convention from his District.

Delegate allotments are based on a complicated calculus that measures enrollment figures from the last gubernatorial election for each District, doling out more delegates to active neighborhoods.

The 52nd District includes the politically active communities of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Park Slope. Its 11 Delegates are the most of any District in Brooklyn.

The 52nd contains three influential political clubs: Owens’s Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, and the Brooklyn arm of Lambda Independent Democrats.

“A lot of us were disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the system to continue, but until we come up with a better system, this is what we have,” said Bob Zuckerman, a 52nd AD Delegate and a City Council candidate in Brooklyn.

Zuckerman is also President of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, and he provided an insider’s glimpse into the arcane process.

Along with dozens of club members, Zuckerman canvassed Brooklyn with political petitions. The petitions included names of a variety of candidates for various non-judicial offices, depending on election districts. At the bottom of these petitions were the names of the judicial delegates — an unchallenged slate that included political activists from around the district.

Zuckerman admitted that most petition-signers never even notice the judge pickers on the petitions. “I think people completely overlook it. It’s in small type, it’s quite large the list of candidates. Unless you make a point of brining it up, people just gloss right over it,” he said.

Once the judicial delegates had collected 500 signatures, they were automatically included on the official list of delegates to the judicial convention in September. No one opposed their slate this year.


Out of the 20 Democratic delegate lists proposed in Brooklyn, only one seems to be contested. In the 40th District — where Assemblywoman Diane Gordon served until she resigned after her conviction on bribery charges — two competing slates of seven delegates are now printed on the City Board of Elections primary contest list.

This extra slate mystified Earl Williams, the District Leader in the 40th AD. “I’ve never seen it happen before,” he said. “I am speculating that [City Councilman] Charles Barron wants to get control of the District.”

Barron’s office did not respond to calls for comment.

Nevertheless, Williams saw picking delegates as one of the Party’s most important functions. “[Our delegates] are aware when they go to the convention they will be selecting a judge for the long term. They must look at the qualifications for who is running,” he explained. “My democratic club votes on [which delegates] will be on the petition.”

Williams has been a delegate for years, and said that he loves the process. “It gives me an opportunity to see inside and out the people we select for Supreme Court judges,” he said.

Other districts aren’t quite as open about their process. The 53rd AD is home to Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the chairman of the Brooklyn Democrats. His home turf only gets six delegates, and some of them appear to have close ties to the politician.

Judicial Reports obtained a tentative delegate candidacy list that seemed to include Anna Gonzalez, the former chair of Community Board 4 in Brooklyn and Yvette Perez, a staffer at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — a social services non-profit that Assemblyman Lopez helped found. While neither woman returned calls for confirmation, both praised Assemblyman Lopez's housing reform efforts in this 2003 New York Times article.

In addition, a delegate named Stephen Levin rounds out the list. Assemblyman Lopez’s Chief of Staff is named Stephen Levin, but he did not return a call for comment.

By tradition, the five Supreme Court incumbents in Brooklyn will receive uncontested nominations at the convention.

As for the open seats, according to multiple delegates in Brooklyn, the final list of candidates had not been shared with the judge pickers as of this writing. The Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair did not respond to a call for comment on this article.

Owens noted that the final list is generally never settled until the weeks leading up to the judicial convention — sometimes the Democratic leaderships' anointed favorites aren’t clear until the day of the actual convention.

“Unless there’s something really wrong with them, the [judicial picks] are automatically becoming the nominees,” concluded Owens. “Realistically, how can a Supreme Court Judge be held accountable for anything?”

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

All in the Lopez family

Daily News Editorial, September 19, 2006

"It was bad enough to learn that Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez is set to bestow a Supreme Court judgeship on his girlfriend's brother, but now comes word that Lopez is conniving to get Gov. Pataki to name his daughter to a spot on the state Court of Claims.
Here is the most powerful proof that Lopez views the courts as a patronage playground where judgeships are awarded based on personal ties. And home is where the plums get picked with two hands.
As chairman of the Brooklyn machine, Lopez has virtually absolute power to name his gal pal's brother, Jack Battaglia, to the bench on Friday, in one of the rigged conventions that federal courts have ruled blatantly unconstitu-tional.
In the case of his daughter, Gina Marie Lopez Summa, the boss is counting on Pataki - a Republican who has bene-fited from Lopez's support - to come across with a nine-year, $136,700-a-year appointment. Dear old Dad would then have accomplished the long-sought goal of seeing his offspring in cozy court jobs. Some history:
In 1992, Lopez asked newly elected Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres (no relation) to hire a party hack as her law secretary. She refused. Three years later, when Summa graduated law school, Lopez sent word that the judge could make up with the organization - and win a spot on the Supreme Court - by hiring Summa as her law secretary. After Lopez Torres refused again, another Civil Court judge took on Summa - and was promoted to the Su-preme Court.
Lopez Torres was then blocked for Supreme Court for seven years - and filed the federal court action that declared the party's stranglehold on judgeships unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Papa Lopez backed Pataki's 1998 reelection and, like magic, Summa was named state Division of Hu-man Rights general counsel at $87,500 a year, a salary that has since been bumped to $119,658. Thus was her career greased. Thus has she been placed, with the thinnest of résumés, on Pataki's desk for a judgeship that can preside over everything from major suits against the state to serious felony trials. Summa has only one thing going for her - her fa-ther. That shouldn't be enough."