East Village judge candidate passes major hurdle
By Elizabeth OBrien
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted last week to approve contested federal judicial nominee and East Village resident Dora Irizarry, clearing the way for her candidacy to come before the full Senate.
Gov. George Pataki recommended Irizarry, who ran unsuccessfully last year against Eliot Spitzer for state attorney general, for a federal judgeship in Brooklyn. Yet over the summer, a majority of the American Bar Associations review committee found Irizarry not qualified for the federal bench.
While Irizarrys qualifications and character have sparked debate, some East Village community leaders have said they did not know the nominee lived in their neighborhood. In Irizarrys biography on the Department of Justice Web site, it says that she has frequently participated in activities with a wide range of educational and community organizations, especially those with a youth focus.
This is the first Ive heard of her, said City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, adding, If I dont know who this woman is, it must mean shes not part of the community.
Susan Stetzer, an East Village resident for more than 30 years and a member of Community Board 3, said that she had followed Irizarrys candidacy but was unaware she lived in the East Village.
Fred Newman, Irizarrys colleague at the Midtown law firm Hoguet, Newman, and Regal, told The Villager that the nominee had lived in the East Village for 12 years. A call to Irizarrys office at the firm was not returned. Newman said that it is customary for Senate nominees to not speak publicly while their candidacy is under consideration.
Before joining the firm, Irizarry served as a judge in the Court of Claims in the New York County Supreme Court. In New York State, the Supreme Court is not an appellate court but a basic-level court. She began her career in the Bronx District Attorneys office.
The American Bar Association judged Irizarry to be unqualified based on a review that included 70 interviews, said Thomas Hayward, a spokesperson. A committee evaluated her on judicial temperament, integrity and professional competence, and found problems with her judicial temperament, Hayward said. Their report said that Irizarry regularly lost her cool in the courtroom. Of the 200 people President Bush nominated to the federal bench, Irizarry is one of only three who were deemed unqualified, Hayward said.
Newman disputed the allegations leveled against Irizarry.
Its all garbage, Newman said. Shes a brilliant woman, shes incredibly hard-working, and I have no doubt shell be an extraordinarily good federal judge.
According to her biography on the Justice Department Web site, Irizarry was born in Puerto Rico and her family came to New York when she was an infant. She attended the Bronx High School of Science, received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her law degree from Columbia University.
In addition to Pataki, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has also backed Irizarry, whom he found to be forthcoming and thoughtful when the two met, according to a prepared statement.
While people have raised questions about her temperament, nobody doubts that she is clearly in the mainstream unlike so many of President Bushs radically conservative nominees, Schumer said in the written statement. You have to pick your battles, and Id much rather have Judge Irizarry on the bench than someone who has a perfect temperament but would like to turn this countrys clock back to the 1890s.
Some supporters suggested that the American Bar Associations claims were unduly influenced by objections raised by disgruntled lawyers who saw a chance to retaliate. A majority of the lawyers in the courts are white, middle-aged men, one Irizzary backer noted, who may have bristled at the way Irizzary, an assertive Hispanic woman on the bench, established order in the courtroom.
If that is whats being hurled at our committee, I would say that people are way, way off base, countered Hayward of the A.B.A.
No date has been set for the full Senates vote on Irizarrys candidacy, Newman said.