NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) - The New York City Bar Association has refused to give its blessing to longtime Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, who is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election.
In a press release, the association said the veteran prosecutor, who has served six terms as district attorney, was "not approved by reason of the candidate's failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the office for which he is a candidate."
Johnson apparently earned the negative rating for refusing to be interviewed by the association's committee on the judiciary, which evaluates candidates for district attorney, and for Supreme Court and Civil Court seats in New York City.
In a statement, Johnson took a jab at the committee, saying that "it makes no sense for them to screen in uncontested races."
"If they think that I have not demonstrated the qualifications to hold this office," Johnson added, "they must have been stuck in a cave for the past two decades."
A spokesman for Johnson confirmed that the district attorney did not appear for the judiciary committee's scheduled interview, but nothing in the association's release indicates that he refused to participate.
In an email, Alan Rothstein, the association's general counsel, explained that the bar notifies all candidates that they will not receive approval if they do not participate in the evaluation process. "We do not believe candidates should be able to avoid the non-approval by not participating in this very long-established process and therefore not demonstrating their qualifications for the position," Rothstein said.
STATE'S FIRST BLACK DISTRICT ATTORNEY
The committee's evaluation process asks candidates to complete a questionnaire, which seeks detailed information about their legal education, experience and employment.
After conducting phone interviews with references and adversaries, reviewing writing samples, and interviewing the candidates, a subcommittee prepares a written report on its findings. The full committee then meets with the candidate before rating him or her approved or not approved.
Johnson, who graduated from New York University School of Law in 1975, became the first black district attorney in New York State when he took the helm of the Bronx County DA's office in 1989.
From 1975 to 1978, Johnson worked as a criminal defense lawyer at the Legal Aid society. In 1986, following an eight-year stint as an assistant prosecutor in the Bronx DA's office, he was appointed to a New York City Criminal Court judgeship. Shortly after that, he was promoted to Acting Justice of the New York State Supreme Court.
During three terms of his administration -- 1988, 1991 and 1999 -- Johnson was approved by the association. He was rated not approved in 1995, 2003, 2007 and 2011. According to a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney's office, Johnson did not attend the association's interview in 2003 or 2007.
In addition to rating Johnson, the association weighed in on judicial candidates across the five boroughs.
All were approved except for the following: Paul M. Atanasio and Renata Landskind, who are running for Supreme Court in Kings County; Vincent F. Martusciello, who is running for a countywide Civil Court seat in Brooklyn; and Robert V. Beltrani, John F. Casey, Milton H. Florez, Joseph F. Kasper, and Gabriel Tapalaga, who are running for seats on Queens County Supreme Court.
Florez said he was "disappointed" at the rating, the rationale for which, according to a letter he received from the association, was that he had no civil experience and that his adversaries and certain judges did not think he was qualified. Florez noted that the Queens County Bar Association rated him as qualified.
Landskind and Casey did not return calls for comment. Atanasio, Martusciello, Beltrani and Kasper could not be reached for comment. Tapalaga said that he didn't attend the association's interview process.
(Reporting by Noeleen Walder)
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