William J. Watson, a Republican candidate for City Court judge, was accused by a Democratic leader Friday of violating campaign guidelines that apply only to judicial candidates.
Watson derided the attack as "a political stunt" meant to try to hurt him "just as my campaign is peaking."
A top official of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said the complaint won't even come before the panel until its next meeting in late October, and an investigation, if any is found warranted, would take between three and 18 months.
Nancy L. Sharpe, the chairwoman of the City Democratic Committee, held a news conference Friday outside City Hall to announce she had sent a formal complaint to the commission about Watson's advertising and public statements.
Ms. Sharpe said, "There are established guidelines for conducting a judicial campaign, and he has seen fit not to follow them."
The endorsed Democratic candidate in the race is Acting City Court Judge David R. Wendt, whose position is appointed and part-time. Also in the race is the incumbent City Court Judge, Betsy G. Hurley, a Republican. The three are in the Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Independence, and Liberal primaries. Judge Hurley and Wendt are matched in a Right to Life primary.
Ms. Sharpe claimed Watson has attacked rival candidates and indicated in his advertisements and letters to the editor published in local newspapers that he would set high bails and impose strict sentences. Ms. Sharpe said, "(This) would seem a direct violation of a judge's or judicial candidate's obligation to remain impartial and to refrain from making promises or statements regarding cases which might come before him."
Ms. Sharpe said the other two candidates "have talked only about their qualifications."
Watson, who is on leave from his post as an assistant district attorney, said he doesn't think he's done anything wrong.
"Every piece of literature that has gone out with my name is 100 percent factual," he said. "I see this as a political stunt four days before the primary to take support away from my campaign."
He also said he had not received any advance word of the complaint. Ms. Sharpe said she sent it to Watson's home Friday by registered mail.
The rules on judicial campaigning are contained in 10 pages issued by the state Unified Court System. In short, they require candidates to refrain from personal attacks and to promote only their own qualifications without making promises about how they would handle current or future cases.
John J. Postel, chief attorney for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said that panel's jurisdiction extends only to judges, so it would be able to consider discipline against Watson only if he is elected. If not, the case would go before the Grievance Committee of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.
Postel said penalties for violations of the campaign rules range from "a private letter of admonition" to censure, suspension, and removal from office. A losing candidate could be censured, suspended from practicing law, or disbarred.