Judicial candidates on the campaign trail

Campaigns this year that have not drawn much news coverage are the races for judicial offices.  Despite their interest in contested judicial elections the Buffalo News has avoided making endorsements.   Ethical restraints necessarily and wisely placed on judicial candidates prevent them from fully and appropriately engaging.

That makes peer review very important in judicial races.  The WNY area has four bar associations that appoint committees whose members thoroughly review judicial candidates’ qualifications, rate the candidates, and attempt to publicize their ratings.

 In this year’s Supreme Court contest, only one of the two candidates has submitted to this scrutiny from all four bar associations, Amy Martoche (Democrat, Working Families).  The other candidate, Gerald Greenan (Republican, Conservative, Independence), chose not to even request ratings from any of these organizations.  In 2019 Greenan requested a rating from the Bar Association of Erie County for the same office but then withdrew.  His rating then was “Not Recommended,” which perhaps explains why he chose to forgo the process this year.   Greenan lost the election last year. 

Greenan’s failure to request bar association ratings is worth noting.  The public should have some fair and objective guidance from lawyers whose exposure to their fellow lawyers and judges can provide invaluable insight into candidates’ qualifications, temperament and abilities.  Fair, impartial, knowledgeable, intelligent and hardworking judges are more important than ever in today’s polarized environment.  

Greenan’s supporters have suggested that there is political bias in the association ratings, but they choose to ignore the fact that Republican Kenneth Case has been rated “Outstanding” by the Erie County Bar Association.

Buffalo City Court Judge Amy Martoche founded and now runs the Human Trafficking Hub Intervention Court for all of Western New York, benefiting the entire region while maintaining her own full City Court calendar.  Judge Martoche has been rated “Well Qualified” by the Erie and Niagara County Bar Associations, “Superior” by the Minority Bar Association, and “Outstanding” by the Women’s Bar Association.  She has also been endorsed by 15 unions and other community organizations, including the Buffalo Police and the Erie County Sheriff PBAs.  The Jamestown Post Journal and the Dunkirk Observer are also supporting her election.

There are, by the way, two other judicial elections in Erie County.  Kelly Brinkworth is running unopposed for Family Court.  Kenneth Case is unopposed for re-election to County Court.

In Niagara County there is a contested election for County Court Judge.  Current District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek is running as the Democrat, Republican, Green, Independence and SAM parties’ candidate.  She is challenged by Michael Benedict, the Conservative, Working Families and Libertarian candidate.  The Niagara County Bar Association website does not report on its candidate ratings in this election.

One more point

Greenan’s TV ad opens with news clips about burning and looting (and then shows him walking out of the Art Gallery.)  Perhaps Greenan is figuring that trying to scare people will make viewers think he is tough on crime.  This is certainly a departure from other judicial ads which have focused exclusively on candidate qualifications.  Many if not most state Supreme Court Justices, by the way, preside over civil cases and don’t get too involved in criminal matters.

The crime video is a popular one with Republicans in 2020, although there is no attempt to explain its direct relevance to the office being sought.  Other Republican candidates, including Ed Rath who is running for the State Senate and Stefan Mychajliw in his congressional race, have used it too this year, like a dog whistle I suppose to send some sort of message.