The dramatic saga of New York County Surrogate-elect Nora Anderson continues with the recent recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct that she be suspended upon taking office on January 1st. The New York Times has reported that a letter sent by the commission to the Court of Appeals states that "“public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, the courts and the administration of justice would be undermined” if Ms. Anderson presided over cases in Surrogate’s Court while facing criminal charges. Earlier this month, the Surrogate-elect was indicted on charges that she violated campaign finance laws concerning allegations concealing a $250,000 campaign contribution from her boss (who was also charged) and stating that she had advanced the funds herself from her own personal assets.  The limit imposed by state laws for an individual contribution to any campaign is $33,122.50 (a curious number indeed, especially when one considers the $2,300 limit on contributions to a presidential candidate).

While the position taken by the commission re-enforces the principal that no man –or woman– is above the law, the apparent reluctance to appoint a successor to permanently fill the surrogate position reminds us that Ms. Anderson must be presumed innocent until and unless found guilty of the serious charges against her. Ms. Anderson was elected by the people and should therefore be entitled to assume her office should she be vindicated.  Nonetheless, it would also seem likely that the extremely heavy calendar of the New York County Surrogate’s Court will require at least a temporary appointment of a qualified jurist to help manage the caseload in a timely fashion.

The indictment and arrest of Ms. Anderson followed by only one week, the decision to disbar former Kings County Surrogate Michael H. Feinberg who was removed from his office in 2005 for awarding his friend, the former Public Administrator Louis Rosenthal legal fees of 8.6 million dollars without requiring the submission affidavits detailing the services provided. Mr. Rosenthal was suspended from the bar for a two year period and Stephen H. Chepiga, the  chief clerk of the Kings County Surrogate’s Court was censured.