Family of Queens Democratic Boss Snatches Up Supreme Court Appointments

Anti-nepotism rules barred Joseph Crowley's cousins from getting work from Queens Supreme Court in 2011—but now they're back.

Congressman Joseph Crowley. John Moore/Getty Images

Relatives of Congressman Joseph Crowley, chairman of Queens Democratic Party, are once again picking up appointments and payments from the borough’s Supreme Court—six years after anti-nepotism rules banned members of the clan from profiting off the system.

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A minor scandal broke out in 2011 when reports arose that jurists in the borough had handed out lucrative temporary work to Bernadette and Theresa Crowley, cousins of the party boss and sisters to Queens Councilman Elizabeth Crowley, at the same time that their other sister Margaret held a six-figure clerking gig under Supreme Court Justice Darrell Gavrin. State strictures forbid lawyers from getting court-ordered assignments in a judicial district where a member of their nuclear family holds any moderately well-compensated position.

And so began a four year hiatus for the Crowleys from Queens Supreme Court. But state payroll records indicate that Margaret Crowley left her job a few months into 2015, and her family members began scooping up appointments from Supreme Court judges almost immediately afterward.

In July of that year, a judge named Bernadette Crowley guardian ad litem in a foreclosure case, a position given when a defendant is absent, senile or a minor, and in which the attorney attempts to locate a person capable of answering the suit. In December 2015, another judge designated her the legal guardian of a mentally incapacitated woman.

Meanwhile, her husband and law partner Gregory Gina snagged three judicial appointments as a court evaluator—an attorney who determines whether a person requires a legal guardian—that July and October. Records indicate Gina had never received any assignment from any court in New York State before or since.

In 2016, Bernadette Crowley received two appointments as court evaluator. Margaret Crowley, now in private practice, got named a court evaluator herself in cases in December of last year and in February of this year.

These jobs do not violate court rules—but they do fit into a well-documented pattern of the Queens judicial system doling out appointments to attorneys tied to the local Democratic machine.

County political organizations, and their chairmen, hold tremendous sway over the nominating process which selects and elects candidates to the state Supreme Court. In theory, New York’s partisan system gives primary voters the opportunity to pull the lever in September for their preferred delegates to the judicial convention—but in reality, the delegates are usually insiders handpicked by machine leadership, and often run unopposed, meaning their names do not even appear on the ballot.

The conventions thus serve as little more than ceremony, with the delegates merely anointing the candidates the County organization has already ordained. In deep-blue regions like Queens, securing the Democratic line is tantamount to victory, and so jurists are indebted to the chairman and the machine for their jobs.

Neither the congressman nor his cousins responded to requests for comment.

The Queens party boss is a rising figure nationally, having delivered a speech in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention last July. In November, his colleagues voted him chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, making him the fourth-ranked member of the minority delegation, three slots below Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Family of Queens Democratic Boss Snatches Up Supreme Court Appointments