Syracuse voters will choose an additional city court judge in the November election.
Syracuse is one of 20 cities in New York to add new judgeship positions. The New York State Legislature created the positions to alleviate caseload, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
Three Democrats are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the new job. They are Ross Andrews, Lou Levine and Jim Romeo, all lawyers.
The Onondaga County Democratic Committee will select its nominee May 17. If the other candidates want to challenge the party’s nominee, there will be a primary election tentatively scheduled for Sept. 9, 2014. The general election Nov. 4, 2014.
The Onondaga County Republican Committee is not endorsing a candidate for city judge this year.
City judges handle a range of cases, from misdemeanor and drug crimes to traffic violations and small claims.
“It terms of human interest and what’s happening in the city— it all happens in city court. It’s the front line of the criminal justice system,” said retired Judge Jeffrey Merrill. “If you care about people and you’re interested and fascinated by human beings, it’s the most phenomenal spot in the world.”
Syracuse University political scientist Grant Reeher says the process of electing judges is a uniquely American phenomenon. “Mostly everywhere else, they are appointed,” Reeher said. “The problem with having them elected is that the voters have access to very little relevant information about the candidates and much of this is due to the restrictions placed on the kinds of things the candidates are allowed to discuss.”
Candidates for city court judge are not permitted to solicit funds except from their political party’s committees, according to the New York State Board of Elections website. Unlike other elected positions, judgeship candidates may not make political promises or endorse other political candidates.
Last year, Levine and Romeo lost the Democratic primary election to Mary Anne Doherty in the race to fill retired Judge Merrill’s seat. Merrill, 68, is the last last serving Republican on the city court. In light of a mandatory judicial retirement age of 70, Merrill said he didn’t want to run for a position he could only fill for two years.
Syracuse court judges serve a 10-year term. They earn a $145,000 salary.
Here’s a look at the prospective Democratic nominees:
Ross Andrews (Democrat)
Ross Andrews is a political newcomer. He is running on his deep ties to the community, he said.
“This particular seat has a lot of interest for me. It’s a really important institution in the city—it deals with a lot of quality of life issues faced by city residents,” Andrews said. “And for a lot of people it’s the first and only contact they’re going to have with the judicial system.”
Andrews is the second founding member of Andrews and Satters law firm. He is a graduate of Georgetown University law school in Washington, D.C. Andrews began his career representing unions and plaintiffs in employment cases. He also specializes in disability claims cases.
Louis Levine (Democrat)
After losing the primary election last year to Mary Anne Doherty, Levine is making his second run for city court judge. Levine says his chief concern is to uphold the quality of the judicial process and maintain public confidence in the court system.
“Public confidence in the court system depends on the voters choosing the judicial candidate who has the most experience, ability and dedication. I believe my record shows that I am that candidate,” Levine said.
He has 35 years of experience practicing law. He specializes in bankruptcy and creditor’s rights, collections and commercial litigation cases for Melvin and Melvin law firm.
He is a graduate of Northwestern University and Albany Law School. Levine is also a member of the Syracuse Citizen Review Board and the treasurer of the city’s 17th Ward Democratic Committee.
Jim Romeo (Democrat)
Romeo is also making his second run for the party’s city court judge nomination.
Romeo cites his experience as his major qualification for the judge’s seat. “I’ve practiced almost my entire career in city court, handling the kinds of cases that go before city court judges. For every kind of case, I’ve represented clients on both sides,” Romeo said. “I’ve prosecuted criminals, I’ve defended criminal cases; I’ve represented landlords, I’ve represented tenants; I’ve defended small claims cases, and I’ve prosecuted small claims cases. I’ve defended and prosecuted civil cases that go in front of city court as well.”
Romeo is a lifetime Syracuse resident. He is a graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and Le Moyne College. He has his law degree from Albany Law School. He worked as assistant district attorney. Romeo now works for his family law firm, Romeo and Romeo.
Romeo volunteers with community youth as a basketball coach for St. Charles Borromeo Elementary, Most Holy Rosary Elementary and the Hamilton Street Boys and Girls Club.
(Joshua B. Dermer is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and a specialization in forensic science.)