THE POLITICS OF IMAGERY

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Some years ago, as a graduate student, I read Murray Edelman’s book entitled, The Symbolic Uses of Politics, University of Illinois Press, 1964.  This book is imaginative and interesting.  One of those books you keep on the shelf and often find yourself re-reading.

Well, the last ten years have been filled with experiences that have brought to life Professor Edelman’s concepts about how politics, government and economics really work.

Images, illusions and self-sustaining momentum all directed at a single goal – to preserve systemic power over the economy, judicial and administrative process and the democracy itself.

If we were to create a “bell curve” to depict the allocation of economic security, due process and participatory democracy in contemporary American society, it might look something like this:

The top two percent get A’s.  They are the generationally rich.  Their wealth is deep and penetrative, almost institutional.  They transcend economic variables and easily navigate even the most severe periods of economic reversal, like the depression of the 1930’s and the near collapse of 2008.  They will always be with us.  They get to control over 90% of the wealth and income.  The “Occupy” movement would call them “the 1%” but it is probably closer to “the 2%”.  They hire the best lawyers to navigate state and federal judicial and administrative processes, buy the best medical care and make the political campaign contributions which ensure that their interests will be protected by the people elected to high office.  In fact, open-ended campaign finance laws are the primary source of their power.

The eighteen percent, doctors, lawyers, bankers, corporate executives and high government officials, get B’s, and pretty much achieve the same things the two percent do, but, in the proper pecking order.  That is to say, if the lines below move up, the eighteen percent may be affected, but, never the two percent.

The sixty percent get C’s, and are comfortable.  If they confront the criminal justice or judicial or administrative process they can pay a competent lawyer to get a fair outcome.  They have good jobs and incomes, health care, nice homes, cars, family vacations, pensions and what they perceive as their share of the American dream.  They belong to churches and synagogues and give to charity and view people in the top two percent as venerably entitled, and the eighteen percent as rightly enjoying the fruits of their labors.  All true.  Being wealthy and financially secure is no vice.  So, if when they get up in the morning and the coffee pot works, the car starts and they get to their jobs, and back home at the day’s end, everything is good.  The twenty percent below them are a burden.  There will always be people who suffer from poverty.  That’s life.  After all, we know that nobody ever said the system was perfect, and that anyone who wants to succeed financially in America, need only to work hard and play by the rules.  As to people who end up marginalized or in prison, well, the system does not pick names out of a hat, so, if you are there, you must have done something in your life to get there.  Law abiding people do not have to worry about such things as due process and the rule of law.  That is for radical, bleeding heart civil liberties activists and aging hippies to talk about.  As for economic justice, that is for socialists and other failures to contemplate.

Now the bottom twenty percent is mostly African-American, Latino, rural and urban poor, elderly, and unemployed. They get D’s and F’s.  They fill the nation’s prisons, welfare rolls, charity hospitals, mental institutions, orphanages and nursing homes, and do the menial jobs if they are lucky.  They too will always be with us, and the best thing to do is look away and leave them to the institutional sub-culture.  Too upsetting.  Too distracting.  Until the line ___________ moves up, then we start noticing, and it is moving up, not too gradually.

The evening news may begin with stories of joblessness and record home foreclosures, but, when the Wall Street reports play — … investor confidence up — Wall Street soared past the 12,000 mark, evidencing a strong recovery.  So what are we worried about?  We are worried about a dysfunctional economy and a weakening democracy.  Lawyers and Bankers do not just become wealthy and run the government, they run the society – the culture – and the resources and rules are exclusively within their control.  It is like playing a game of scrabble with a fellow who has squirreled away twenty letters from the board into his pocket.  The playing field is not level.  In fact, it is not a field at all; it is a very steep hill.

Don’t believe it?

Look at the numbers of criminal defendants in state judicial proceedings represented by court appointed lawyers, who plead guilty and go to prison, and compare the numbers to similar defendants with paid lawyers who go to trial or plead out and never do a day in prison.

Look at who is taking their family to a food pantry for Friday night dinner, rather than to their favorite fish fry.

Look at people living out of their cars in the driveways of the empty residences they once called home, and look at the number of people who worked their whole lives, paid their taxes and played by the rules who are bankrupt, broke, homeless, jobless, and even in prison because the momentum has slowed down and the bottom line ___________ has moved up, and continues to move up.

Look at the additional three million Americans who will lose their homes this year as a result of foreclosures by banks and vulture funds financed with their tax dollars, who refuse to restructure their loans or lend to them.

Look at the thousands of young men and women we send to war, who experience unspeakable violence and trauma, and look at the billions of dollars a month we spend on these wars, and the way we treat veterans when they return – no jobs, no care, no counseling, and when combat related post-traumatic stress leads them to drug abuse or violence, we lock them away in our state prisons and forget about them.

We are mostly all capitalists, some more than others, and most of us are moderates, and neither of those labels should prevent anyone from advocating for national policies that promote fiscal responsibility, public safety, national security, economic and social justice, and an uncompromising fidelity to the rule of law.

The deficit will never be eliminated until we come to grips as a society with the fact that we cannot afford to imprison or supervise 10% of our population.  We simply can no longer afford to collect human beings.  We should try going back to coins, stamps or hummels.  People are too expensive and balancing budgets and eliminating the deficit on the backs of unions, the middle class, unemployed and the working poor is not the answer either.

Alternatives to prison must be studied and implemented.  We need to build more schools and mental health and addiction recovery clinics, reconcile more offenders with their victims and close more prisons.  We need to address the root causes of crime and violence and not ignore them.  We should not keep prisons open in order to maintain a dysfunctional economy for residents of our rural communities where factories and mills have long ago been abandoned.  We must recognize that while society has a legitimate duty to punish offenders, it does not have to destroy them in the process.  There is a difference.  Rehabilitation and drug and alcohol abuse treatment must also be a factor, and we should start trying to control the epidemic of sex crimes by restricting the availability of hard-core pornography in the media and on the internet and by providing psychiatric treatment and hospital confinement for sex offenders, instead of long prison terms, which only exacerbate the pathology.

We need to stop depleting our treasury with unnecessary wars conducted by a national security elite who approach war as if it were some intellectual exercise and who have stretched America’s military apparatus to the limits.  The security of the nation can be strenuously ensured without overextending our military or wasting our money.

We need to re-examine the widespread immunity given to law enforcement officials.There are thousands of dedicated effective individuals serving in law enforcement in America.  There are also too many marginal and emotionally unfit people attracted to these jobs, and we need to weed them out, and hold them accountable and not allow distorted perceptions of our need to be protected to prevent us from doing so.

We need effective financial and regulatory reform which protects the public without criminalizing ordinary commerce.  We must hasten to acquire and restructure defaulted mortgages so homeowners and farmers are not displaced, and property values are not further depressed.  Until this is done the residential real estate market will not fully recover and the jobs we need will not be created.

We have to start creating jobs by building things.  Factories and mills, plants and laboratories, clean energy sources and revitalized infrastructure, and see to it that everyone who wants to work gets a job.  We have to stop outsourcing our core employment opportunities.

We have to stop investing our wealth in phantom financial instruments too difficult to understand, except by the select few who cash in on them and explain them to us later.

We need to reduce our dependency on oil.  It is pure folly to allow our addiction to oil to cause us to pay trillions to the same people who we say are dedicated to our destruction.

We have to harness the unbridled power and discretion that unelected administrative officials exert over every aspect of our lives and reduce the number of government agencies.

We have to stop worrying about labels and amend the new health care bill to provide the equivalent of single payer Medicare for every American.  If people want to enhance their coverage with supplemental private insurance, they should be free to do so.  We need to strengthen and maintain Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and programs which assist families, children and the elderly in their time of need.

We need to simplify the tax code, and work toward an equitable tax system that encourages the growth of small business and creates jobs, eliminates taxation altogether for people earning $25,000 or less and proportionately increases taxes on the highest income brackets.  There is scarcely anything new about such a proposal.  Thomas Jefferson advocated this concept at the early stages of the Republic.

We have to finish the job of guaranteeing every American their civil rights, not with symbols and images, but, to start with, by providing jobs to everyone who wants to work, and by working to keep fathers off the streets, out of prisons, and back at the kitchen table and by remembering that we started out as a “nation of immigrants”.  This means creating a national environment where justice transcends race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic status and nationality.

We have to let go of our own insecurities and let law-abiding people be who they are, worship God as they choose and marry who they love.

We have to promote life, not death, and this means policies that stop the flow of drugs into this country, eliminate the death penalty, protect the environment, encourage adoption over abortion, control the use of guns, eliminate hunger and homelessness, especially for our children and the elderly, and make education the primary weapon we use to preserve our cherished American traditions.  We have to treat our teachers as heroes and do everything possible to encourage young people to become educators.

We need to go back to schools that teach our young people about reading, history, government, art, music, science, math, literature, language, and writing to prepare them for college.  We do not need schools which are glorified vocational centers.  We need to educate our children to become whole human beings, and this means all of our children.  We must promote civility in the classroom and protect our young people from bullies.

In his last published work, The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith said this: “… Let there be a coalition of the concerned.  The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system …”.

Today we are surviving on images of prosperity, democracy and justice.

We live in a kind of conscious unreality, where the sheer momentum of everyday existence creates the illusion of prosperity, justice and liberty.  We borrow frantically, mete out justice sparingly, neglect participatory democracy regularly, and rotely exclude millions of people from the mainstream of the good society, and the economic life of the nation.  Sadly, what most Americans mistake for democracy and economic recovery these days is really just momentum.

We have created a prison sub-society which breeds violence, terror, and despair, destroys the family unit, and is bankrupting us.  We spend our national treasury and our young people on unnecessary wars.

The solution to these problems is not to be found in fringe movements, or the ranting of extremists who want to cut back essential programs and services.

The answers are in the hearts of ordinary decent Americans who use common sense; do their duty every day, and strive to make sure that everyone has a place at the table.

That is democracy, and true capitalism and that is the kind of genuine patriotism that “the greatest generation” exhibited when they encountered their “rendezvous with destiny” in the 1940’s and conquered fear, poverty and tyranny and went on to ignite the greatest period of economic expansion the world has ever known.

No true progress on any of these fronts can be achieved until the imagery is taken out of the political process, and we return to this kind of genuine patriotism and to a true participatory democracy.  This means that there must be mandatory public financing of every local, state and federal election as well as continued funding of public and alternative radio and television as a means of the open and free exchange of ideas.

Money is driving public policy as never before, and not just from corporations, but, from unions, political action committees, and known and unknown individuals and enterprises as well, who direct cash to political candidates from both parties, who wax elegant with imagery during political campaigns, but, once in power, do the bidding of their financial backers.  This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it is a matter of human nature.  When you accept things from people, you obligate yourself to them.

We have allowed ourselves to be controlled by expensive radio and television political advertisements and a saturated internet which distorts the political process.

This corrupts us by convincing us to enter into covenants for governance with people whose primary purpose is to perpetuate power, not to serve the public interest, or the rule of law.  There is a vast difference between the rule of the law and the rule of power.

And it does not stop after the campaign.  Candidates continue to maintain and spend these funds well after they have assumed office on other like-minded candidates, and to further their own political and personal agendas.  There can be no reasonable expectations of breaking loose from the hold of political imagery has on the political process until we enact into law legislation that requires 100% public financing of every political campaign from local alderman to President and impose reasonable term limits.

The results might surprise us.  There are thousands of decent, competent, well-intentioned Americans with much to contribute to society who could run for political office if they had the means to do it, and did not have to contend with financial monoliths running against them.

This would open up the political process to include, young people, students, teachers, professors, farmers, retired and senior citizens, laborers, shopkeepers, pharmacists, doctors, scientists, homemakers and on and on.  Indeed, this is the democracy our founders envisioned.  The citizen public servant, who holds office, serves, leaves office and makes room for another citizen to serve; not a cabal of lawyers, financiers and career power brokers who take control of the government and never let go, and give us a good speech and saturate us with imagery every two, four or six years.

At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin warned us that our new adventure with liberty would last only as long as the people keep it honest.  When the people become “so corrupt” as to require a “despot” Franklin said, the experiment would surely fail.

We have allowed imagery to corrupt the political process and the economic underpinnings of our society.  This did not happen because Americans are corrupt – far from this; we are a people rich in character, courage and generosity. What happened is that we all got caught up in the momentum, and then the stillness came, and now we are remembering, listening, asking the right questions and are ready to act.

If we treat our present financial, legal and political crisis as our own “rendezvous with destiny”, we will not lose our economy, our democracy or the law, we will restore them.  After all, we are Americans.

In Search of the “Oaks of Justice” – in smoke filled back rooms.

Brendan J. Lyons wrote a telling report in the Sunday August 12, 2012 edition of the Times Union, “Politics swirl in bid for judges”.

The story describes how sitting New York State Supreme Court Justices have paid large fees to an Albany, New York consulting firm to broker cross-endorsements for their re-election in the fall.

Two such Justices of the Supreme Court in the Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, cited in the report, Bernard J. Malone, Jr. of Albany and E. Michael Kavanagh of Ulster County, have collectively paid $40,000 to William D. Powers, former State Republican Chairman under former Governor Pataki, to arrange to eliminate the prospect of any opposition in their bids for re-election.

Justice Kavanagh was quoted in the article as saying that “the elected process does not serve the public very well” and that while he “strongly supports the people’s right to choose, but the election of judges and the restrictions that are imposed on us in terms of campaigning make it very difficult for voters to become informed.”

The Times Union report goes on to say;

“…over the years, the manner in which cross-endorsements unfold at the judicial convention – roughly 82 handpicked delegates often vote in line with their party leaders – make legal ethicists shudder”.

And quoting James Sample, a law professor at Hofstra University who is considered an expert on voting rights and judicial elections,

” … It’s Soviet-style democracy in the sense that we have all the appearances of an election:  You go to the ballot box, except the choices have all been made for you”.

Jurists who believe that voters are perhaps not well enough informed about judges and justice to be trusted to vote in a judicial election and that the task is best accomplished by political compromise have identified the right issue, but come up with the wrong answer.

People need to become more informed about how our justice system works and more directly involved in assuring that only the best of the state bar be entitled to assume judicial office.  Whether this means the election of our state’s judges and justices at the ballot box as part of an open and informed electoral process or through a constitutionally revamped merit based judicial selection process, is something to be studied and decided – by the people in a referendum.

One thing is for sure though; the selection of the men and women who are to serve justice in our names, should not be made by party bosses based upon scripts written by power brokers.

“Democracy is a very bad form of government.  Unfortunately, all the others are so much worse”

Winston Churchill

In Search of the “Oaks of Justice”

The controversy over judicial compensation in New York, which was addressed in the state’s current budget, has refocused attention on the issue of how republican government balances principles of judicial independence with the doctrine of separation of powers and accountability to the rule of law.

As policy makers grappled with this issue, we were reminded of past debates and the need to understand just how tentative our civil liberties have become in the face of contemporary public passions and how critical the judges and justices who are entrusted with the care of these precious rights are to the preservation of liberty.  Justice should not be fungible.  Members of the judiciary should be compensated fairly because the stakes are high and society must attract to the bench the very best minds and temperaments the legal profession has to offer in order to insure a fair, impartial and independent judiciary.

In her parting remarks before leaving the Court, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated that the controversy over judicial action and independence is not new and that the subject continues to be relevant especially as it concerns individual rights and freedoms and the role of judges in the nation’s criminal justice system.

Regardless of whether one approaches the issue from the left or the right, the present state of American law evidences an encroaching disregard of fundamental freedoms as an antidote to crime and terrorism and as a mode of law enforcement.  What makes this all the more frightening is that it has gone largely unnoticed by the public.  Most people are of the opinion that those in prison belong there and have had a fair trial and that fundamental fairness and due process of law are not things that law abiding citizens need to concern themselves about.

Our judges are intended to be guardians of the Constitution, the ones who, as Justice Anthony Kennedy has described, “seek to create order out of a disordered reality”.

Thomas Jefferson observed in an 1820 letter, “that judges seem to see themselves as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us all under oligarchy”.

The expansion of law enforcement in the United States over the past twenty-five years, has placed law abiding citizens at risk and in fact at loss of the very life, liberty and happiness that the founders considered to be our fundamental entitlements.

One need only look at the effect of current abandonment of constitutional protections by prosecutorial action, against individual citizens to understand the extent to which government, cloaked with banners of patriotism, and moved by undercurrents of fear, can subordinate even the most basic notions of fundamental fairness and due process of law, to the tyranny of contemporary passions and overriding concerns for security.

John Adams said that the form of government, which was best, was that which produced the greatest amount of happiness for the largest number of people.  Adams believed that “all good government was republican”, and that the “true idea” of a republic was “an empire of laws and not of men”.

American justice today has morphed into a vehicle for unified state action against targeted individuals and government’s sole purpose it seems has become to secure conviction and punishment of the accused even at the risk of the diminishment of constitutional protections.

The great presumption of innocence of an accused person has been replaced with a not too subtle notion that people are not accused without some culpability and a mind-set that once the prosecutorial juggernaut has been launched, judicial officers are essentially relegated to the role of presiding over the consumption of state prosecutorial processes, by facilitating conviction, ensuring punishment and resisting any disturbance of those determinations on appeal.

The only possible antidote to the deprivation of due process in this country is money.  Individuals who can afford expensive lawyers can level the playing field.  Those who are without money are crushed, and assimilated into the prison system.  Justice should not be fungible.

Adams said that it was better for guilty persons to escape unpunished than for an innocent person to be convicted.  The reason, he said is, “because it is of more importance to the community that innocence should be protected, than it is that guilt should be punished”.

Justice Tom Clark would repeat this principle almost two centuries later in the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Mapp v Ohio (citation omitted), “If a guilty man goes free, it is the law that set him free.  Nothing will destroy a government faster than its willingness to disregard its own laws, the very charter of its own existence”.

“Facts are stubborn things”, John Adams once told a jury, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”.

Once indicted or charged, a citizen accused no longer can take comfort in the fact that the state must prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or that she need not concern herself with anything beyond creating reasonable doubt.  Instead, in our current criminal justice climate, an accused must prove his innocence conclusively, almost to point where the trier of fact has no choice but to acquit. The burden of proof has indeed shifted.

Grand Juries are no longer the “buffers” between government and its citizenry that serve to insulate individuals from the harshness and ordeal of defending themselves against criminal allegations.  Present day grand juries have been reduced to the role of doing the bidding of prosecutors.  They are fully a prosecutorial forum subject to widespread abuses of discretionary authority.

Individual guarantees to such things as freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, trial by jury, right to counsel, and effective counsel, as well as the right to be properly indicted by a grand jury, just to name a few, have become more nostalgic concepts than constitutional realities and have been and continue to be whittled away by the state courts, one after another, through unified efforts of prosecutors, jurists, and court appointed defense lawyers, all with the passive acquiescence of  an uninformed and frightened public.  We are losing the law.

Individuals are sent to prison every day having been deprived of a fair trial, in many cases, as result of improper plea agreements exacted by prosecutors, advocated by court appointed defense counsel and approved by judges who are under constant pressure from state court administrators to comply with formal “standards and goals for the timely disposition of cases”.

Once sentenced, a New York State inmate has less than a three percent prospect of post-conviction relief or success on appeal especially those who are indigent.

The Supreme Court has effectively eliminated a state inmate’s right to access self-help in prison law libraries. New York is one of the few states that continue to provide for reasonably adequate inmate self-help in its state prison law libraries.

Indigent representation by court appointed lawyers has been reduced to inadequate, perfunctory performance, and prisoner access to federal habeas corpus, once the last and best hope for protecting citizens from unlawful imprisonment, was essentially eviscerated during the Clinton administration as part of the Democratic President’s compromise to power after the 1994 mid-term elections.  The “Great Writ”, once held with the esteem given a sacrament, has gradually been reduced to near nuisance value.

Families are separated from loved ones and bread winners through the imposition of long, harsh sentences routinely imposed by jurists who do the bidding of prosecutors and pander to advocates of arbitrary and selective prosecution and punishment of the crimes of the day.

The United States leads the world in imprisoning its citizens and its minorities as prison construction and a virtual criminal justice corrections industry expands at an alarming rate.

Privatization of correctional services has resulted in the emergence of several companies such as Corrections Corporation of America, the CEO Group, and Carnell Companies, which yield corporate profits at taxpayer expense and human costs, often contractually exacting from the states, guarantees of ninety percent continued occupancy levels in the private prisons.

The nation’s current prison and jail population stands at about 2.3 million, an increase of 2.8% since 2003.  The waste and unaccountable profligate spending on prisons and corrections nationally is an economic crime in itself and accounts in large part for our national debt and the dire financial conditions of the states.  Federal, state and local governments spent $62 billion on corrections in fiscal year 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 18% more than in 2000 and 77% more than 1994.  Figures from 2005 to 2011 are even higher.

The United States has incarcerated ten times as many of its people as most other democracies.  In fact, 12.6% of all American black males in their twenties are behind bars, with 3.6% of Hispanic males and 1.7% of white males incarcerated.  This, in spite of the fact that violent crime in the United States has dropped by over 30% since 1994 and property crimes fell by 29%.

The prison population has nonetheless continued to climb at a rate of 3.5% per year since 1995 with two out of every three prisoners released, behind bars again within two to three years of their release.  Approximately seventy percent of those released from prison return within three years, according to some studies.

Fifty five to sixty five percent of New York State’s prison population is African American, 25% to 35% is Latino, and 5% to 10% is white or “other”.  Likewise, 86% of all New York State Rockefeller drug law offenders in New York State’s prison are African American.

These shocking numbers speak loudly of a “New Jim Crow” and the cruelty of a system that fills its prisons, with the same people year after year, decade after decade, without ever addressing the root causes of what leads them there; poverty, exclusion, illiteracy, racism, the destruction of the family unit, a culture of death, violence, drugs, and sex, and a growing gap between rich and poor which is rapidly expanding into a great abyss.

Prisons are destructive of society, families and most of all, of our children.  The collateral damage is incalculable.

Poverty law for criminal defendants in the United States has reached crisis proportions and in New York State has elevated to a certified constitutional class action.

True rehabilitation programs for education, mentoring and reintegration of prisoners back to their families and into society are being eliminated in response to budget cuts and system guaranteed recidivism is rampant.  Warehousing inmates is the policy of choice in most states instead of rehabilitating offenders, closing prisons and building schools and day care centers.  Corrections officers unions wield disproportionate political power, while teachers unions struggle to keep teacher’s jobs and maintain modest after school programs that keep our children off the streets.

Every day, more and more middle class Americans, those who have up to now thought of themselves as safely law abiding, witness or directly experience the loss of liberty through the denial of due process and fundamental fairness by state courts.  Society’s ultimate sanction, separation and removal, is imposed in a routine, almost casual manner.

Sadly, too many of today’s jurists strive to accommodate the demands of the hearty American appetite for enforcement and marginalized civil liberties.  They are not all the sturdy trustees who guaranty each individual and his family the peace of mind that in the United States of America, no court can imprison an individual without first scrupulously and completely exhausting every right, privilege and immunity, guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

Indeed it is this very assurance that Jefferson and Adams advanced, which has become so wanting on the American scene.

Adams reminded us that Constitutional prescriptions for government’s role are relative to “fundamental questions about the realities of human nature, political power and the good society”.  This expectation, the demand of every citizen, that his government secure his rights to liberty and happiness and by no means take actions to thwart them, are basic to human nature, divinely given and, as another son of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy would remind us a century and three quarters later, based upon the belief, “that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God”.

Without real criminal justice reform in the United States, there will be an eventual irreparable undermining of confidence in our judicial system.  Ordinary law abiding people ultimately will not allow themselves, their families and financial security to be destroyed by public officials purporting to be acting on their behalf and in their names.

Decisive criminal justice reform and action is not only necessary but is vital to the preservation of our personal liberties, our pursuit of happiness, and confidence in our cherished institutions.

When judges take that same solemn oath, to which our forbearers prescribed over two centuries ago, to defend the constitution, they swear to uphold the right of every American, to rely on the rule of law, no matter what crime might be alleged or what the passions of the day may be.

To ensure this bond of fidelity, we must attract only the very best legal minds to the bench; experienced thoughtful men and women, dedicated to public service through law.

It is essential therefore that the men and women who serve as our judges and justices receive compensation commensurate with the burdens imposed by their office.  That is why New York was right to establish a special Commission on Judicial Compensation and raise the state court judges’ salaries to the same level as the federal bench.  We must continue to be vigilant in promoting judicial excellence.  In past decades our justices and judges accepted judicial status as the crowning jewels of a distinguished legal career, not in lieu of one.

In New York State, judges and justices such as Charles Breitel, Vito Titone, Lawrence Cooke, Jacob Fuchsberg, Matthew Jasen, Joseph Bellacosca, James Hopkins, Michael Gabrielli, Judith Kaye, Isaac Rubin, Milton Mollen and Frank Gulotta, just to name a few, established New York State’s primacy and set the standards in state and federal courts nationwide for bipartisan judicial excellence.  We must make it an essential priority to re-establish the primacy of New York State’s judiciary by seeking out qualified men and women with a true sense of proportion to fill our judicial positions and embark on a new era of court reform in the tradition of the 1976-1977 court reform amendments implemented under the leadership of former Governor Hugh Carey, former Chief Judge Charles Breitel, and former Chief Administrative Judge Richard Bartlett.

Our society cannot afford to do any less, in search of  the“Oaks of Justice”.