Civil Court in Brooklyn’s 3rd Judicial District: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick
Brooklyn Democratic Primary
June 23, 2020
Judicial elections continue to be a mystery to even the most politically engaged New Yorkers. This year, New Kings Democrats is hoping to shed some light on the process ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary by publishing this voter guide for Civil Court Judge in Brooklyn’s 3rd Judicial District.
This guide includes a brief description of the function of Civil Court, how judges are elected, and information on the candidate who returned his questionnaire: Stephen Burzio.
New Kings Democrats is a progressive, grassroots political organization committed to bringing transparency, accountability, and inclusionary democracy to the Kings County Democratic Party. While our strategy sometimes involves supporting specific candidates for office, we decided to keep our focus this election cycle - which in most Brooklyn districts will only feature judicial races - in building awareness and engagement around the candidates and the positions they are running for. Nothing in this guide is intended to represent an endorsement of any particular candidate by New Kings Democrats. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our work.
A note on judicial delegates
You may also see candidates for judicial delegate positions on your ballot — if your Assembly District has more judicial delegate candidates than seats. The role of these delegates is to attend the Kings County Democratic Party’s judicial convention and select the party’s nominees for any vacant State Supreme Court seats.
Judicial Candidate Questionnaires
This year, NKD reached out to judicial candidates in Brooklyn’s 3rd Judicial District with a questionnaire to create a voter guide. Only one candidate responded: Stephen Burzio, who is running for Civil Court Judge in Brooklyn’s 3rd Judicial District.
For any supporting documents mentioned in the questionnaire, please email email@example.com.
About the Civil Court
What is the Civil Court?
Civil Court of the City of New York handles lawsuits involving monetary claims for damages up to $25,000. For example, if a dry cleaner destroys $500 worth of your clothes, you can sue them to Civil Court to try to recoup the loss.
How are Civil Court Judges Elected?
Civil Court judges are elected directly by the electorate to 10-year terms - meaning they petition in order to appear on the primary election ballot, then run against other Democratic candidates in the primary, and if they are successful in the primary, face off against candidates from other parties in the general election.
In practice, Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership tends to limit competition for Civil Court seats and will only support one candidate per seat. Most would-be candidates choose not to run without the support of the Party, so when voters turn up on primary day, they frequently have no choice between Democratic candidates, and simply elect the candidate pre-chosen by Party leadership.
About Judicial Races
Why can’t I find information on judicial candidates like other candidates?
While a candidate for State Assembly can indicate the policy positions they intend to take when in office, judicial candidates cannot speak to how they might rule in any matter. Further, sitting judges are forbidden to participate in political activities, and therefore lack the political base that candidates for other legislative or executive positions often do. These rules are intended to depoliticize the judiciary, but their unintended side effect is that judicial candidates therefore depend on buy-in from the political establishment (see next question).
What’s the connection between judicial elections and the Kings County Democratic Committee (the Brooklyn Democratic Party)?
The Kings County Democratic Committee provides manpower to endorsed Civil Court Candidates. The Party itself is not officially allowed to provide resources to candidates in the primary, but District Leaders (and other elected officials) can help judicial candidates collect the required number of signatures in order to be eligible for nomination.
Help can come in other forms as well. For example, in 2015, former County Chair Frank Seddio directed members of his political club to review petitions submitted by a challenger to a Party-endorsed candidate for Civil Court (Judge Michael Gerstein) to find invalid signatures so that those petitions could be challenged in court. District Leaders can also provide judicial candidates with access to election lawyers (typically law clerks who want to eventually become judges).
Judicial candidates are more dependent on this kind of institutional support to run their campaigns than are candidates for other offices such as State Senate or City Council, since, as mentioned above, they can’t speak to how they might rule in any manner and are forbidden to participate in political activities so don’t have the same political base as other candidates.
For additional information about Judicial Elections, including information on the Supreme Court and Surrogate’s Court, see our 2019 guide, “A Fair Shot: The County Party and Judicial Elections in Brooklyn”