In selecting candidates to recommend to the state Democratic Committee, members of the Ninth Municipal Civil Court District Screening Panel wanted input from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
But not enough to change the panel’s meeting schedule, which included two Friday nights and the first night of Shavuot.
In response to the request of Democratic district leaders to appoint a representative to the panel, Met Council’s director, William Rapfogel, chose his director of human resources, Renee Schnall, an attorney who had served on a similar panel six years ago. Those recommended to the panel represent only themselves, not the organization that selected them, as many organizations, like Met Council, are barred from politicking.
When Schnall, who is Orthodox, found out the meeting schedule, she asked the panel administrator, Andrew Houghton, if some of the meetings could be rescheduled so she could attend. Schnall said the answer was a flat no.
“I was very surprised,” said Schnall, who believes there are about 14 members on the panel. “This was supposed to be a cross section of the community where those judges are going to be nominated. By making three out of four meetings at those times, you are missing out on part of the New York community.”
When contacted by The Jewish Week Tuesday Houghton said he would return the call but did not do so in time for publication. The Ninth District covers the East Side of Manhattan between Fifth and Lexington avenues and Midtown Manhattan extending into Chelsea.
Schnall recalled that during her previous service on a similar panel she was able to use her Jewish knowledge to question one prospective candidate about the state’s law regarding Jewish divorce proceedings, known as the Get Law, after the applicant cited experience with the law.
“This was an opportunity to have input from the Jewish community, and the opportunity was missed,” said Schnall. “Hopefully in the next go-around they will reconsider the scheduling. I don’t believe the slight was intentional.”
Many Democratic leaders rely on their county committees to screen judicial candiddates but those in the Ninth District have traditionally convened their own panel.
Rapfogel said the Manhattan Democratic chairman, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, had intervened to try to change the independent panel’s mind, to no avail.
“He has always been very responsive,” said Rapfogel of Wright. “Which is why we were especially surprised that the Ninth was so unresponsive.”
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