This story was produced as part of the City Limits Accountability Reporting Initiative for Youth (CLARIFY) program.
On Tuesday, June 23, New York Democrats will express their presidential preference, decide nominations for a host of Congressional and state legislative seats and, if they live in Queens, determine who will represent the party for borough president in November’s general election.
Many voters can also cast ballots in judicial races. Everyone knows who Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are, and many of us have seen campaign posters for the Congressional candidates in our area. Some of us even know the names of our state senator and Assemblymember. But the judicial posts, important though they are, rarely see much campaigning or media coverage and are usually omitted from voters’ guides.
In the name of helping New York primary voters be somewhat better informed, here’s a breakdown of the office at stake and the races on the ballot:
Judges of the Civil Court are elected and serve terms of 10 years. There are 120 Civil Court Judges, of which approximately 50 sit in the Civil Court. The rest of the judges elected to the Civil Court sit in various other courts, including Criminal Court and Family Court. Many judges sit as Acting Supreme Court Justices. A judge elected in one county may also be assigned to sit in another county.
Judge of the Civil Court: 3rd Municipal Court District, Brooklyn
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Maria Aragona: After she was admitted to the New York State Bar, Maria Aragona worked in private practice, where she represented a variety of clients: domestic violence victims, members in family court matters, and defendants in criminal proceedings. She left private practice in October of 2012 to become a law clerk to a Supreme Court Justice in Kings County, according to her campaign website. She decided to enter the legal field due to her own experiences with the court system as a child after her father died, Aragona told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Stephen Serge Burzio: Originally from Puerto Rico, Stephen Serge Burzio moved to New York when he was seven, according to his campaign website. With 16 years of law experience under his belt, Burzio previously served as an attorney with the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, representing tenants on evictions and on other Housing Court issues. He was also co-chair of the transportation committee for his local community board. Burzio currently works as a law clerk for Kings County Supreme Court Justice Carl Landicino, according to the Brooklyn Eagle.
Judge of the Civil Court: 6th Municipal Court District, Queens
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Leigh Cheng: Leigh Cheng has been working as a public servant for the better part of the past two decades: his past experience includes serving as a law secretary in the guardianship part of the court, and as a law clerk for a judge. He has also worked at the Civil Court (the court in which he hopes to serve as a judge) where he tackled cases ranging from rejected health insurance claims and evictions disputes. He’s been endorsed by a number of elected officials, including Congressmember Grace Meng and State Sen. John Liu.
Juan Hong: Hong is currently a professor at Laguardia Community College, where he has taught for 18 years, specializes in teaching law courses and launching the school’s first class on immigration law. He previously served as a counsel to a former senator and a city Council member, has worked as an administrative judge for the city’s Environmental Control Board and volunteered teaching citizenship classes. Fluent in Korean, Spanish, and English, Hong has been endorsed by the National Latino Officers Association, the Honorable Martha Flores Vazquez, and the East Elmhurst Corona Democratic Club.
Judge of the Civil Court: Queens
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Jessica Earle-Gargan: A St. John’s Law School grad like her opponent, Jessica Earle-Gargan is a former Assistant District Attorney who specialized in prosecuting domestic violence crimes, according to her campaign site. A Bayside resident, Earle-Gargan’s other law experience includes serving as court attorney for two Supreme Court justices, where she worked on divorce and child custody cases.
John J. Ciafone: A trial attorney and lifelong Queens resident, John Ciafone studied at St. John’s Law School and has worked as an hearing officer for the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and as a small claims court arbitrator. In a campaign ad posted to YouTube, Ciafone described himself as “independent” and criticized the current judicial establishment as beholden to special interests. He made headlines last year when he was fined for advertising his legal services on buildings he owns without a city permit.
Judge of the Civil Court: 1st Municipal Court District, Manhattan
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Eric Schumacher: Schumacher has 35 years of experience in the Court of the Appellate Division, earlier as court attorney and today as Deputy Chief Clerk. Schumacher says his devotion to public service is motivated by his passion for justice and his own experiences with prejudice as a gay man. Schumacher has received endorsements from the Downtown Progressive Democrats and the Lower East Side Democrats. In addition, Schumacher has been rated ”most highly qualified” by the New York County Independent Judicial Screening Panel, a panel of bar associations, community organizations, and law schools that assesses the qualification of candidates.
John Zhuo Wang: Wang, a child of Chinese immigrants and father of two, previously served as an attorney, a law clerk in the New York State Supreme Court and the principal law clerk to the supervising judge of Manhattan Civil Court, and has been a Housing Court judge since 2018. Wang tries to bring “empathy and compassion” to his work on the bench, according to his campaign website. His endorsements include the United Democratic Organization, Village Independent Democrats, and New Downtown Dems. Wang has also been rated as “Most Highly Qualified” candidate by two 2020 Democratic Independent Screening Panels, according to his campaign.
George Marc Santana: Currently a Principal Court Attorney in Manhattan Civil Court, George Marc Santana has also served in the Bronx County Civil Court and in the Tenant Protection Unit for the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal. He does pro bono work in two clinics. Santana embraces his Cuban background and the strong women in his family, according to a video published by his campaign. Santana’s endorsements include Latin Grammy Winner Lena Burke, Honorable Phyllis Gangel-Jacob, Liz Abzug (president of the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute) and El Especialito, a free Spanish weekly newspaper magazine.
Judge of the Civil Court: 2nd Municipal Court District, Bronx
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Linda Poust Lopez: Lopez, a former attorney at The Legal Aid Society, is also known for her work as a judge in both the Human Trafficking Intervention Court and Bronx Treatment Intervention Court (BTIC), which offers nonviolent drug offenders the option to pursue treatment instead of time behind bars.
Wanda Y. Negron: A former paralegal and adjudicator for the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), Wanda Y. Negron obtained her Bachelor’s degree at Lehman College before going on to study at Quinnipiac School of Law to obtain her Doctorate. She’s been endorsed by Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. and the The National Latino Officers Association of America.