Since their bitter primary battle two months ago, Michael L. D'Amico and Jacqueline C. Mattina have buried their public nastiness amid speculation that the campaign for Erie County Court judge might be over.
Television and radio ads that highlighted D'Amico's 1994 arrest on a morals charge won't return. Reports of Ms. Mattina's drunken-driving arrest while a Michigan law student have faded, too.
Instead, both are pushing their resumes to counter the less-than-desired ratings each received from their bar association peers: D'Amico as "qualified," the lowest positive rating, and Ms. Mattina as "not recommended."
The area's most controversial judicial race -- a contest between D'Amico, the incumbent judge, and Ms. Mattina, a county social services attorney, has left a lot of political wreckage.
Both will be on the ballot, because D'Amico won the Democratic primary and Ms. Mattina won the Republican primary. D'Amico also has an Independence Party line, and Ms. Mattina the Conservative and Liberal lines.
But many now wonder whether the race is over, since D'Amico enjoys the Democratic Party's 110,000-vote edge in registrations in Erie County.
The Mattina camp insists that it is continuing to campaign, and started television ads today touting Ms. Mattina's qualifications.
D'Amico, whose ads were to start Thursday, has appeared often, pushing his 10 years as a judge and the fact that the higher court has upheld 96 percent of jury cases that were appealed.
D'Amico wants to avoid talking about his arrest on public-lewdness charges in Ellicott Creek Island Park in Amherst. He pleaded guilty to a violation and was admonished for misconduct by the State Judicial Conduct Commission for telling the arresting officer he was a judge.
"I'm not asked about it at all," D'Amico said about his arrest. "It's not an issue. The . . . issue here is qualifications and credentials."
While she hasn't handled criminal cases, Ms. Mattina says her "immense" experience in Family Court and county court give her the experience "to be a damn good county court judge." She added: "The main reason I am running is so voters have a choice." At stake is a 10-year term in the county's criminal courts that, with an annual salary of $103,800, is worth more than $1 million.
But, unlike most judicial races, this one has stirred continuing political upheaval:
The day before the primary, the Mattina campaign pulled the controversial ads after complaints from D'Amico and the State Supreme Court Justices Association. Her new ads are "positive" and tout her legal experience.
"The idea was to get out certain facts we felt the public ought to know," said Robert DiTusa, Mattina's campaign coordinator. "When they were out, we didn't feel we needed it anymore. We were not ordered to do anything."
The Erie County Bar Association plans to review how it determines judicial ratings "and find ways to improve our procedures," according to David R. Pfalzgraf, association president.
That decision has won applause from all sides, including Robert E. Davis, chairman of the county Republican Party, who says the ratings carry a lot of weight with voters yet few know how they are decided.
The bar was roundly criticized for its primary ratings: Because Ms. Mattina appealed her "not recommended" rating, it was not released until the day before the primary.
Ms. Mattina said the bar rated her unfairly by not interviewing her references and speaking with her for only seven minutes.
D'Amico denounces his "qualified" rating, saying it does not reflect the "overwhelming positive" reviews he has received from practicing attorneys. D'Amico also objects that the full board decided to lower his rating to "qualified," after the judiciary committee had recommended the "well-qualified."
The State Judicial Conduct Commission reportedly was asked to review State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle's defense of D'Amico. Doyle, in a letter, criticized the bar association for its "incredibly incorrect" rating and demanding that it be reviewed.
In response, Edward M. Flynn, Ms. Mattina's campaign manager at the time, accused Doyle of violating judicial ethics and said he expected a review by the state commission. Flynn, who ran the 1991 re-election campaign of Ms. Mattina's father, Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina, has since left the campaign and refuses to answer any questions.
Doyle, the area's top administrative judge, said he has not heard from the judicial commission and insists that he was right to speak out.
"What I did was not only appropriate but necessary," Doyle told The Buffalo News. The commission will not disclose any current investigations.
County Republicans are trying to deflect critics who say the party failed to put up a candidate who could challenge D'Amico after his arrest in the park.
"We have to improve this process and make sure this doesn't happen again," Davis said of Ms. Mattina's struggles. Davis set up a lawyers' committee to groom Republican attorneys willing to run in a county where Democrats usually win judicial races.
While he probably will give her campaign race a small amount of party funds, Davis acknowledges that the primary was the key race for Ms. Mattina.
In the community, D'Amico, 51, reminds voters that he started his public career in 1970 as an undersheriff to Sheriff Michael A. Amico. He also was a confidential clerk to Supreme Court Justice M. Delores Denman before being elected to county court in 1987. He is married to the former Carol LaPorta and has three grown children. He holds a law degree from the University of Buffalo.
Ms. Mattina, 35, a lawyer for 10 years, has had four legal jobs for the county since 1986. She has spent four years in her current job, a $55,657-a-year position handling legal affairs of the Social Services Department and prosecuting child-abuse, neglect, support and paternity cases.
She and is married to Thaddeus Chmiel and has two young children and is expecting a third next month.
Her law degree is from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and she has taken master's-level legal courses at the University at Buffalo.