throughout her campaign for manhattan surrogate's court last year, nora anderson promised to increase accessibility and implement reforms in a court known more for being a patronage mill than handling estates and wills.
though anderson won, those reforms remain untouched, along with her spot on the bench, since a month before being sworn in for her 14-year term, she was indicted for steering a $250,000 personal check from her former employer to her campaign. far beyond the maximum amount allowed for a contribution, that $250,000, the campaign claimed at the time, was a loan, though only a small portion was paid back.
anderson, who pled not guilty to the charges, declined comment through her lawyer.
usually when judges or judicial candidates come under legal scrutiny, it is before they win elections or after some years on the bench. by being indicted before taking the seat she had already won, anderson created a strange situation for the judiciary, which the court of appeals eventually resolved by suspending her, with pay, until the criminal trial was resolved.
already postponed once, the criminal trial is now set to begin may 22, and may drag on for several months.
meanwhile, at the surrogate's court, even modest updates such as capital improvements, personnel decisions and new technology are on hold as judge kristin booth glen and acting surrogate judge troy webber focus on handling the caseload that piled up in anderson's absence.
among other things left by the wayside for now, booth glen said, is a plan for how to spend the much-needed capital money promised to the court by the office of court administration.
"it's hard not knowing whether she's going to be here for two years or six months," booth glen said of webber. "if i knew that nora was going to be here in september and was going to be here long after i was gone, i might have different conversations."
while webber's term is dependent on anderson's trial, 66-year-old booth glen will hit the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2012.
webber was appointed temporarily to anderson's seat by the office of court administration in january. though she practiced civil law as a litigator, her time on the bench was spent dealing with criminal cases in manhattan and in the bronx before being elected to the supreme court in manhattan in 2003.
without a transition period to become more familiar with the staff and attorneys of the surrogate's court, webber said she is quickly learning the procedures and casework of inheritances, wills, estates of the dead and appointing legal guardians. how long this limbo will go on remains unclear. anderson could make a plea deal and vacate her seat. or she could go through with a full trial. if she does, and is acquitted on criminal charges, the commission on judicial conduct could continue its ethics investigation, which was launched before anderson was indicted. that investigation could take longer than the trial. if she is found guilty in the trial, there will likely be a process of appeal.
anderson may well survive the investigations, but if not, depending on the timing of the vacancy, there will either be a regular primary election or a general election in which the democrat is picked by the county party. alternatively, the temporary appointment could hold until the subsequent election cycle, allowing for campaigns to start from scratch.
among those whom some speculate may be interested in the race if and when it comes are anderson's 2008 opponents, state supreme court judge milton tingling, who carried the backing of the county party, and john reddy, who came in a distant second.
tingling did not return calls for comment, and reddy declined to talk about a potential entry into a race should there be an opening.
"it is still a peculiar scenario, something no one suspected," reddy said.
and there may be a new person involved.
webber said she is so engrossed by the work in this new area of law that she might try to hold on to the job by getting into the election herself.
"my intent was not to run for it," webber said. "but you never know."