Bronx Civil Court Candidates Plead Their Case | The Riverdale press
By ETHAN STARK-MILLER
Excitement is mounting as the Democratic primary elections on June 22 draw ever closer.
Many eyes are on the mayoral race, with front-runner Andrew Yang – an entrepreneur and former presidential candidate – drawing plenty of local and national media coverage. Significantly, fewer follow races for comptroller, public attorney, and city council – but these contests still command attention. Ultimately.
However, even many die-hard politicians don’t know much about the list of contenders that usually appear at the bottom of the ballot: the candidates for the post of judge. There are two open civil court judicial positions open on the municipal court bench, serving an area spanning the entire west side of the Bronx.
Unlike criminal and family court judges, who are appointed by the mayor and governor, civil court judges are chosen through partisan elections. These judges handle small claims cases up to $ 25,000 and disputes between tenants and landlords.
The winners of this race will serve 10-year terms on the bench.
One of the candidates, Yadhira Gonzalez-Taylor, said judges were often overlooked by voters because “they’re not sexy races, (and) they’re at the bottom of the ballot.”
“When we go to court and say, ‘Well, this judge doesn’t reflect my community, they don’t think like my community, they don’t understand the difficulties that my community has,’ it’s because they are elected. by a tiny fraction of the electorate. Because not everyone votes at the bottom of the ballot. “
This year, candidates for civil court judges will appear on a separate sheet, Gonzalez-Taylor said, because of all the space devoted to the ranking vote.
However, voters will not vote for the civil court judge through a ranked choice – instead, they will use the old system, choosing a candidate for each place.
Four other candidates are vying for the two open seats. Two of them – Jessica Flores and John Rodriguez – are backed by Democrats in the Bronx, with backing from machine politicians like Congressman Jeffrey Dinowitz, State Senator Jamaal Bailey and U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat.
Flores is currently the principal legal assistant to a Bronx Supreme Court justice responsible for employment law. She began her career as a lawyer in children’s services, typically representing younger clients in Bronx Family Court.
Flores left after five years to represent clients who otherwise could not afford a lawyer. There, Flores represented children in cases of abuse, delinquency and adoption. She also ran a Bronx-based law firm for approximately 10 years.
As a first generation American, whose parents are from Honduras and Cuba, Flores grew up speaking Spanish as her mother tongue. Her education prepared her to be a lawyer, she said – and now a judge – in her home borough.
“I know the hardships that my parents went through and that many families go through when they get here,” said Flores. “Unfortunately, many of them end up in the justice system and are lost. I was able to understand that and I was able to help them.
Over time, Flores noticed a disparity between these litigants and the judges before whom they found themselves.
“There was a gap between the understanding of cultural issues and current societal issues,” she said. “I wanted to become a judge because I believe the bench should reflect the community we serve. “
For Rodriguez, it is about restoring respect and jurisdiction to the courts. During his 33 years as a lawyer, Rodriguez has seen what he describes as a deterioration in people’s trust and respect for the courts.
“It is very important that we have qualified people to fill the position,” he said. “Especially in the current climate, we have to know that there will be people who (will) bring confidence to the political system.”
Rodriguez believes his background as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and civil rights lawyer makes him the best candidate for the job. He has also run his own Bronx-based business for the past two decades.
Gonzalez-Taylor – currently a hearing officer in the city’s education department – is leading an independent campaign. Although she is not backed by the Bronx Democratic Party, Gonzalez-Taylor said her campaign was not aimed at being an anti-party machine. Instead, she is showing up not only to represent her community on the bench, but also to educate voters about the importance of judicial elections.
She was inspired to run this kind of campaign because of how she experienced family court as a teenager after her father was charged with abuse.
“We weren’t recognized, the people who received our complaint barely made eye contact,” Gonzalez-Taylor said. “And we both walked away from there with more shame that we even asked for help. It’s my foundational experience in terms of what helps me deal with people as a lawyer, (and) what inspires me to be kind to everyone I meet.
Like Flores, Gonzalez-Taylor also believes that judges often do not reflect the communities they serve, as they are chosen by a very small portion of the electorate. This is why his campaign is fundamentally aimed at educating voters about this process.
The other two candidates seeking votes are Verena Powell and Angel Cruz. Powell is a Bronx-based prosecutor and defense attorney who currently works for the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Office. She also worked for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for a decade.
Politics can rule many aspects of life, but Powell says it won’t affect how she rules in the courtroom.
“I want people to come to court and look at the bench and see someone who looks like me, (knowing) that they will be treated fairly,” Powell said. “Basically, when a decision is made, it is done on the basis of the facts of law, not patronage.
Cruz lives in Queens and runs a law firm that focuses on criminal law, inheritance law and electoral law, according to published reports. His wife is a judge in the Queens Civil Court.
No matter who wins, it’s important for people to understand how important judicial elections are to their lives, Flores said, and why they should make an informed choice in just a matter of weeks.
“Frankly, we make a lot more decisions that impact the community more often than, you know, the controller,” said Flores. “Of course everyone’s races – the mayor and the comptroller and everyone – it has a ripple effect. But it’s not as hard-hitting as the judges, and yet we’re at the bottom. “