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EDITORIAL: A Neutered Democracy

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The political bosses have manipulated the system so that by the time the voter goes behind the curtain and pulls the levers, the results are almost always a foregone conclusion. This is particularly true in the election of judges to the state Supreme Court. Most often the same slate of judges appears under the Democrat and Republican lines. Long before Election Day, the boys in the backroom have cut a deal doling out judgeships like Halloween candy.

Only 12 percent of the registered voters showed up on Nov. 2. Of those, we wonder how many knew anything about the judges for whom they voted. Did they mindlessly pull the levers because they felt it was their duty in a democracy?

A poignant letter in this week's paper from an Elizabeth Schnee highlights how awesomely important it is that we elect judges of the highest quality. Schnee writes that her children were taken from her in a divorce proceeding and that the judge has given her visitation rights. Not knowing anything about the particulars of this case or even the name of the judge involved, we find it chilling that this judge more than likely won a place on the bench as the result of a deal cut by the county's political bosses.

If you knew that a judge could someday have the power to turn your world upside down and rip it apart - as happened to Schnee - wouldn't your hands tremble just a little as they pulled the levers for judicial candidates? And wouldn't you be angry that the political process had reduced you to nothing more than a rubber stamp? We are not trying to imply that there are not high quality judges sitting in the Queens courts. We are only saying that, if there are, it is an accident.

Those who read the Times/Ledger editorials on a regular basis will note that we have sung this same sung often before. They might even conclude that we are beating a dead horse. They may be right. But we will continue to criticize the electoral process in Queens until the neutered democracy is restored.

PASS THE PADAVAN LAW

When a Manhattan jury was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a Queens man who admits that he pushed a young woman to her death from a subway platform, the public was reportedly enraged when it was learned that one of two jurors who held out for a not guilty verdict had been convicted earlier this year on misdemeanor assault charges.

But the real problem is a not a tainted juror. The real problem is that the jury was asked to do an impossible task. Clearly this killer carefully planned his act. It is equally clear that what he did was by any standard an irrational act.

Unfortunately, under current law, the jury had only two choices: guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. A bill authored more than two years ago by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) would give jurors an important third choice. Under this proposed law, a defendant could be found guilty but mentally impaired. This would give the judge the option of sentencing a defendant to a combination of mental treatment and prison. If at some point in the future the doctors conclude that the patient no longer needs to be confined in a secure mental institution, he or she would be transferred to a prison until the term of the sentence was complete.

There is no excuse for not passing this law and this case is proof.

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