The arrest of a politically-connected Brooklyn reverend who held a demonstration questioning Brooklyn’s judicial selection process has revealed a growing fissure within the Kings County Democratic Party.
Or should we say “Fisher”?
Reverend W. Taharka Robinson, founder of the Brooklyn Anti Violence Coalition, was arrested in downtown Brooklyn on January 14 and charged with disorderly conduct, after protesting the process by which Civil Court Judge Pamela Fisher rose to the bench this past year.
Robinson, son of Assemblymember Annette Robinson (D-Bedford Stuyvesant), and a dozen members of the Judah International Christian Center, staged the demonstration at the offices of the Kings County Democratic Party (16 Court St.), where he characterized the judicial appointment and election process as riddled with “cronyism and patronage”.
“She was not screened by the judicial screening committee,” said Reverend Robinson. “She has averted the process. She wasn’t even placed on the ballot. She is deemed not qualified and she is not fit to serve as a judge in Kings County.”
It is a point that Fisher’s allies vehemently disagree with. With a background working for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Center, where her sister is Executive Director, and clerking for a Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Mark Partnow, attorney and friend Carl Landicino, said that she was more than qualified to be on Civil Court.
“I have known Pam personally for 20 years, I know her to be a wonderfully intelligent person,” said Landicino. “I’ve raised money for her and I’m happy to do so.”
Landicino, an attorney for the Kings County Democratic Party, noted that Fisher (unrelated to former City Councilmember Ken Fisher) did not appear before the Kings County Judicial Screening Committee, like many attorneys seeking a civil court judgeship, because she was not running for a county-wide position. In 2009, Fisher ran for a judgeship in the 3rd Civil Municipal District, collecting petitions with over 7,000 signatures. Endorsed by Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), Fisher ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and was easily elected in November.
“Our screening panel is one of the best panels if not in the city than in the state,” said Landicino. “It’s chaired by Martin Edelman. They do a stellar job.”
Attorney and Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon does not dispute that. Simon, who lost a city council primary against Lopez’s former Chief of Staff, Steve Levin, says that the judicial screening process has been reformed in recent years but that her concern remained that Fisher chose not to appear before the panel.
“The common belief is that she knew she wouldn’t past muster,” said Simon. “My concern that it was evaded in a fairly open and notorious way. While the rules require that the executive committee cannot endorse, he is not the executive committee. It is very troubling that the county leader actively supports a candidate that did not go through our process which is meant to identify qualified candidates.”
Fisher’s allies contend that the decision was a political calculation and that she is being unfairly singled out while only serving on the bench for a brief period of time. Fisher herself was not available for comment.
Democratic reform groups, including the Brooklyn-based New Kings Democrats, called the situation “part and parcel of a greater problem.”
“The judicial selection process embodies everything that is wrong with the current state of the democratic party in Brooklyn,” said New Kings founder Matt Cowherd. “It’s part of a non-transparent, anti-democratic practice of old-world style patronage and cronyism.”
Robinson’s mother, Assemblymember Robinson, did not want to go that far. Instead, she praised Fisher while stressing that judicial reform efforts were in no way personal but it was the principle that mattered.
“I don’t even know if anyone knew that the position was going to be available,” said Robinson. “Every seat that was up in Kings County, we have several people interested. We just want to see qualified people on the bench who want to serve the communities. We have a lot of issues in Kings County, and we want to have people who serve with dignity and respect.”