I hope nobody was surprised that Barry Kramer, Surrogate’s Court judge in Schenectady County and a Democrat, got the endorsement of the Conservative Party in the coming election for state Supreme Court judge.
This is in the Fourth Judicial District, an 11-county area that reaches from Schenectady up to the Canadian border and is predominantly Republican, meaning the Conservative line on the ballot will be of some value to an otherwise outgunned Democrat.
Nobody should have been surprised, since it was Kramer, temporarily filling in at the Supreme Court level, who last July gave the Schenectady police union its biggest victory in recent memory when he ruled that disciplinary hearings for its roguish officers could not be open to the public, contrary to what the city administration wanted.
Since the police union is the dominant voice in the Conservative Party in Schenectady County, it would have been cause for surprise if the party had endorsed anyone else. Kramer was like Santa Claus as far as the cops were concerned.
Indeed, at the Schenectady County Democratic dinner last week at Glen Sanders Mansion, Kramer made a point of thanking Bob Hamilton, president of the police union and a Conserverative committeeman, for the Conservative Party backing, besides thanking Mike Della Rocco Jr., who had nominated him, and Randy Pascarella, the chairman of the Schenectady County Conservative Committee.
You may remember the issue that landed before Judge Kramer.
Ever since the Taylor Law was passed in the late 1960s, Schenectady and every other city has had to use arbitrators from the state Public Employment Relations Board to settle disciplinary issues, and this was done entirely behind closed doors, very often to the advantage of the cops.
Then, in 2006, the Court of Appeals ruled that cities which already had on their books provision for discipline by a local police commissioner did not need to go to arbitrators, the big difference being that disciplinary hearings under the control of a commissioner “will be open to the public,” per state law.
When a new police commissioner, Wayne Bennett, came on board in Schenectady in 2007, he seized on that decision and declared that henceforth he would handle discipline himself, and any officer who didn’t like it could have a fully open hearing.
It was not merely an academic question, since there are now seven Schenectady cops standing in line waiting to be fired if the commissioner gets his way.
No surprise, the police union, the PBA, filed a grievance with the Public Employment Relations Board to block the commissioner. Before the board could act, however, the city went ahead and scheduled the first of its proposed public hearings, prompting the PBA to go to court to keep those hearings closed. That’s the case that came before Judge Kramer.
His decision was quite a surprise, not just because it favored the PBA on closing the hearings but because it went beyond that limited question and addressed the whole underlying issue, which technically he was not called upon to decide, that being the issue of whether the old Second Class Cities Law, favored by the city administration, trumped the newer Taylor Law and Civil Rights Law, favored by the cops, or vice versa.
Kramer said the Taylor Law and Civil Rights Law trumped “the stale provisions” of the Second Class Cities Law. He said the procedure preferred by the city, which had been supported by the highest court in the state, was “an outdated procedure.”
So that was quite the little reach, which the city of Schenectady is appealing, and it couldn’t have brought anything but joy to the good old boys of the police union, who are always at pains to keep their misadventures hidden from public view.
Whether Judge Kramer’s statements on the applicability of these various laws formed part of his formal decision or were merely obiter dicta, as we say in the law game, I will leave to higher authorities to decide, but certainly they were music to the ears of Bob Hamilton.
Of lesser consequence but equally melodious had to have been Kramer’s decision three years ago to throw out the petitions of Vince Riggi, a Republican-endorsed but independent-minded candidate for City Council who was trying to get on the primary ballot for the Conservative Party line.
The party leaders didn’t want him and went to court to block him, with Bob Hamilton himself testifying against him, and Kramer came down on the Conservative/PBA side then too.
So once again I say it would have been cause for surprise if the Conservative Party had endorsed anyone else.
Lawyers please note: I neither say nor imply there was a quid pro quo. I just say these were Kramer’s decisions, and this was the Conservative Party’s endorsement.
In fairness — and heaven knows I strive to be fair — I note that Kramer also got the Conservative endorsement the last time he ran for office, in 2003, when, however, he was unopposed and was cross-endorsed by the Republicans. He did not get it the first time he ran, in 1993.
The Surrogate’s position is a 10-year gig, by the way, and the Supreme Court position is for 14 years, though Kramer would not be able to serve all of it, as he is 66 years old now and would have to retire no later than age 75.
He is one of four candidates contending for two open seats. The others are Thomas Mercure, a Republican from Hudson Falls, who also got the Conservative endorsement; Richard Meyer, a Republican from Essex County; and Brian Stewart, a Democrat from Malone.
New York Supreme Court, in case you are new here, is not supreme like the United States Supreme Court. It’s a trial court.
There will be a test on all of this next week, and anyone who answers that a quid pro quo is a Mediterranean seafood dish will fail.