Sunday, September 24, 2006

Nora Anderson gives grounds for investigation on Election Law violation

Daily News Editorial,September 14th 2008

Judge Nora Anderson
Barring an extraordinarily unlikely turn of events, lawyer Nora Anderson will be sworn in as a Manhattan surrogate judge on New Year's Day. The next morning, she must be the subject of investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Talk about getting off to a bad start - one that could result in Anderson's removal from office.

Anderson ran a big-money campaign to get the Democratic nod for surrogate in last week's primary. A surrogate presides over the estates of the dead - and gets to award millions of dollars in assignments to lawyers and accountants.

So badly did Anderson want to win the $137,600-a-year post that she put $270,000 of her own money into the race. She also took a $25,000 donation and a $225,000 campaign fund loan from her boss, who happens to be Seth Rubinstein, who happens to be an active trusts and estates lawyer.

All that was okay under New York's lax campaign finance laws until Anderson reached primary day without repaying Rubinstein's loan. That day, Rubinstein's unpaid loan converted to a gift under the Election Law - Article 14, section 114, paragraph 6a, if you are interested.

Big problem. A contribution of that size is barred by law - Article 14, section 126, paragraph 3 - and under willful circumstances can amount to a misdemeanor.

Depending on how the accounting is done, Anderson may have exceeded the contribution limit by $165,000.

And that's not the end of Anderson's, er, sloppiness.

Under court rules, judicial candidates must file a financial disclosure statement with the court system's Ethics Commission within 20 days of becoming a candidate. Anderson got her document in almost two months late and then failed to include the most important information requested on the form: her income.

Anderson campaign manager Michael Oliva says Anderson believed she had until Nov. 4, Election Day, to repay the loan before it became a gift. "We tried to find the answers," Oliva said, pleading that the law was confusing.

To a would-be judge? To a would-be judge who was warned that ignorance of the law would be no excuse when, in April, she attended a mandatory training course on judicial campaigning.

There, Supreme Court Justice George Marlow, head of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, told the assembled candidates, "You, and you alone, as the candidate, [are] ultimately responsible for what you and your committee say and do."

Anderson's violations are no small matter. She blew away two opponents by running a high-visibility campaign paid for by money that, all evidence indicates, she was not entitled to spend. And she cavalierly disregarded the law that entitled the public to inspect her personal finances.

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