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Brinkworth to face Freedman for Erie County Family Court judgeship

It’s going to be a matchup between Kelly A. Brinkworth and Brenda M. Freedman in the November election for Erie County Family Court judge after a very expensive primary campaign in which upward of $500,000 was spent to attract roughly 33,000 votes.

Brinkworth, who had the backing of party leaders, handily beat back her challengers in the Democratic primary, including a particularly contentious battle from Michele A. Brown, supported by a rival wing of Democrats. Brown picked up even an even smaller share of the votes than Freedman in the Democratic primary, despite having spent nearly $200,000 on her campaign to take out Brinkworth.

With 89 percent of the districts reporting, Brinkworth had 44 percent of the Democratic vote, compared with 21 percent for Brown; 26 percent for Freedman and 9 percent for Joseph T. Jarzembek, a lawyer in the county Department of Social Services.

Freedman was victorious in the Republican primary, with 45 percent of the votes. Brinkworth and Brown also were competing in that race.

Freedman appeared to have secured spots on all the minor party lines in which she ran against Brinkworth – Conservative, Independence, Working Families and Green.

Freedman won the Conservative line with 55 percent of the vote; the Independence line with 51 percent; Working Families with 57 percent and the Green Party line with 60 percent.

The primary was particularly contentious between Brinkworth and Brown.

While Brinkworth was backed by the party establishment, Brown, chief attorney for the Children’s Legal Center, was supported by a rival Democratic faction with close ties to former party Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.

County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner recently called for Brown to remove from the air campaign commercials accusing Brinkworth of making “negative and untrue statements” in some recent mailing. Ethical codes prohibit judicial candidates from making political statements. Zellner emphasized that it was the county Democratic Committee that sent out the mailer and that neither Brinkworth nor her campaign had any involvement.

Zellner also alleged that there were some legal problems dogging some members of Brown’s campaign. He cited Pigeon – who has no direct involvement with Brown’s campaign – and an investigation by state and federal authorities into his fundraising activities.

More than $600,000 was raised by the candidates running in Thursday’s primary for a post paying $159,000 a year. Total spending was close to $500,000. With only about 23,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary, less than 8 percent of the county’s roughly 279,000 registered Democrats.

In addition, funds provided by the candidates and their families, a good chunk of the contributions to the Freedman, Brown and Brinkworth campaigns comes from the legal community. In Brinkworth’s case, there also were contributions tied to her Democratic endorsement.

The big spending in the race reflected the cost of television advertising by Brinkworth, Brown and Freedman, who all aired commercials in the days leading up to the primary.

Freedman, a referee in the Erie County Family and State Supreme courts, spent upward $140,000, while Brinkworth, a longtime assistant county attorney, had campaign spending that topped $160,000.

Brinkworth, 52, has been employed in the county Law Department for 24 years, where she has been the supervising assistant county attorney for the Family Court Division since 1997. She is a 1985 University at Buffalo graduate and was admitted to the state bar in 1990 after graduating from UB Law School.

Freedman has been a referee in both the Erie County Family and State Supreme courts since 2006. She was the principal law clerk there for two years prior to that.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com