A divided White Plains Common Council appointed John Collins Jr. as a city judge by a 4-2 vote on Aug. 5, following a roughly 55-minute debate.
Voting for the appointment of Collins were Mayor Tom Roach, Council President John Martin, Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson and Councilman Justin Brasch. Voting against the appointment were Councilmen Dennis Krolian and John Kirkpatrick. Councilwoman Milagros Lecuona abstained.
Collins replaces Brian Hansbury, who recently retired after his term expired.
A six-member Judicial Screening Committee appointed by the Mayor received 28 applications. The committee interviewed several candidates and the Common Council interviewed nine of the candidates.
At last week’s meeting Krolian and Lecuona were highly critical of the process used to appoint the new judge.
Krolian said he had nothing personal against Collins, but he did not agree with the selection process and the minimum requirements for the post of city court judge. “In no other place is confidentiality required at all between or among Common Council members,” he said. He also indicated the interviews took only 10 minutes and were too short.
The section process was flawed and unfair, Krolian expounded. There should have been an e-mail chain to allow councilpersons to express their opinion on the candidates they supported for the judge post. Krolian said he e-mailed his thoughts, but he did not know the opinions of all of his colleagues. There is nowhere in the local laws that requires confidentiality among the Common Council about their opinions on who should have been chosen, he said.
“As a deliberative body” the Common Council should express their views to each other, Krolian said, adding he spoke to some, but not all of his colleagues. Confidentiality among the Council members has a “chilling effect on the free and open debate,” he said.
Martin asked each councilperson to choose their three top candidates, but he would not allow them to explain why they made their choices, Krolian said.
He and Lecuona asked for a special meeting to discuss the judge opening, but that was denied by Martin, Krolian said. An additional meeting would have allowed members to come to a consensus by expressing their thoughts to one another and would have improved the selection process, Krolian said. The council should not have been told it was a done deal. The end product was everything,” he said.
Martin defended the selection process and said Krolian made “wild accusations of impropriety.”
Martin said he asked the councilmembers to choose their three top candidates, and that he was asked by some of his colleagues to keep the information confidential.
There is a procedure in the city code for Council members to call for a special meeting and that procedure was not followed by any of the councilpersons, Martin said. “There’s no illegality here,” Martin said. “Collins, who has many years of experience in the US Attorney’s Office “is quite qualified to be a City Court judge.”
Kirkpatrick said the appointment of a judge was “a personnel issue” and there needs to be confidentiality so potential job seekers would not be harmed by seeking the post. Kirkpatrick praised Martin for seeking confidentiality.
Kirkpatrick said during the council’s interviews Krolian “performed an absolutely fabulous cross examination” of the judge candidates. However, Kirkpatrick said he did not agree with Krolian’s ideas about the process and what happened in executive session was aired during the meeting “like dirty laundry.”
Lecuona shared Krolian’s criticism of the selection process. Lecuona said she and Krolian sought a special meeting and there should have been one. “We were not taken under consideration,” she said. “We asked in the right way for the special meeting and it didn’t happen.”
There was “a lack of process” in the selection, Lecuona said. “We are the Common Council” and members should help each other to come to a decision, she said.
Lecuona said she was concerned “about the lack of transparency in the process” to select the new judge. Integrity is important in the judge selection process, she said.
Lecuona said Martin agreed with her idea to have each councilperson supply the names of their three top candidates for the judge opening in alphabetical order and he was supportive of her idea of potentially holding another meeting. But in an e-mail Martin said he wanted confidentiality among members on whom they supported at the request of some of the councilpersons. “We, the Common Council were making the decision,” Lecuona said, adding she expressed her opposition to the confidentially and the need for another meeting to Martin, but her e-mails were ignored by the council president.
Lecuona said she e-mailed the names of her top four candidates to each of her colleagues. “I couldn’t make up my mind,” she said, adding she could not support Collins because she was not convinced that he should have been chosen.
“The flawed process” was the fault of the Common Council, not the candidates for the judge position, Lecuona said.
Brasch said he spoke with every councilperson except for one and he personally spoke with two of the candidates. “My first choice was not selected and that’s the way politics goes,” he said, adding the council’s interviews took between 15 to 20 minutes. Even though he was not his top choice, Collins will make “an excellent judge,” Brasch said.
Hunt-Robinson said, “I’m very comfortable with confidentiality” when the council discusses personnel issues among each other and she supported the selection process.
Collins has good educational and professional experience, including working for Sonya Sotomayor before she was appointed to the US Supreme Court, making him an appropriate candidate to become a judge, Hunt-Robinson said.
Roach said the city charter states the mayor should select a committee of attorneys who live or practice in White Plains to fill judgeship vacancies. After the committee’s input, it is up to the Common Council to make the final determination on who should fill a judge vacancy, he said.
Roach said like many votes, some councilpersons chose not to speak to one another about an issue. Roach said he often does not know how his colleagues are going to vote on an issue. Council members can chose not to announce how they are going to vote on an issue before a meeting, he said.
The candidate interviews could have been as long as the councilpersons wanted, Roach added.
Collins has many academic and professional achievements, including 17 years as a US attorney, Roach said, further noting that Collins is active in the local community. “He is going to serve us well as a judge,” Roach said. “He’s very well qualified.”
Lecuona questioned how Martin could have known that Collins had the majority of votes needed to be appointed since Brasch said during the Aug. 5 meeting that he was not his first choice to fill the judge opening.
Martin responded to Lecuona’s comments, saying he would not discuss the deliberations of the Common Council, but that the four votes needed to choose Collins were there before the meeting. If Lecuona and Krolian wanted a special meeting they should have contacted the mayor directly, Martin said. “There is a formal procedure (to follow).”