Sheinkopf Speaks: Judge DiFiore resignation sparks thoughts

Hank Sheinkopf

It was a nice short good-bye letter.  Leaving August 31st. We did good together. Thanks. See you later.

That’s what she thought.

Late in the same day. News moves. She’s under investigation for improper, unethical conduct. Allegation? She used her power to try to hurt an enemy.

Shame on us all! A judge would ever think of doing such a thing? Power used by one public figure to punish, injure, hurt another public figure?  But, of course. Nothing new here.

New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a former Westchester County DA, is an Andrew Cuomo 2015 appointee. And if you ask the people  New Yorkers hate talking with–their neighbors–who is this DiFiore and what does she do every day, they will nod and run away for fear you have a gun or deserve immediate removal from the general population. 

Few will know she runs the courts. All of them. She sits on the State’s highest court. She said no to the gerrymandered reapportionment map, for which she will never be forgiven. The result of that act is this year’s split primary elections—June for state-wide and Assembly contests, August for Congress and State Senate. The Democrat line drawers remain unhappy. Toss onto that her unsuccessful calls to reorganize the disparate  state court system.

This is the  DiFiore trifecta: investigation for doing the personal, anger for doing the judicial and rage over the political.

How so? Some Democrats are saying the court must be more progressive. That’s anger over the gerrymandering decision and rage over what nerve DiFiore had calling for court system change. Court consolidation might mean less patronage. Reform might force elected prosecutors to move their cases more quickly. Surrogate’s  court change could result in more law firms being hired by Public Administrators, now generally unresponsive to anyone but the political machines that put them in place.

More change? Getting rid of the county organization-run judicial conventions. 

We used to elect the Chief Judge. Then, we were told that was no good. Why? We must let better people choose even better people to run our legal lives.  

And so the friends of the better people and their allies have done such a great job that no one is happy. Better people ideas about how to fix our courts? Meetings of even better people sitting in plush offices talking only to those who know they are better than the rest of us. The better people will always try to save us from our ignorant selves. That’s their job.

Try this on: return democracy to the courts. Elect the chief judge. Reduce the terms of judges some of which go for 14 years.  Re-organize the courts to cut patronage. End judicial conventions. Public funding for judicial campaigns with campaign expense limitations.

Now this is not what the progressives—who somehow think centrist Democrats are satanic—nor the politicians—who need the dough for their campaigns given by lawyers and others who get very well from the courts want. The better people who say never let the great unwashed vote for judges ? Let them eat cake by making their votes as good as ours.

DiFiore is leaving. There’s an investigation. Now go back to sleep.

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