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Supreme Court candidates again guaranteed election this year following bipartisan deals

Supreme Court candidates again guaranteed election this year following bipartisan deals

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Ray Walter, vice chairman of the Erie County GOP, was nominated for State Supreme Court in a cross-endorsement deal.

In 2015 when Raymond W. Walter was waging an unsuccessful Republican campaign for county executive, the then-assemblyman "absolutely" denied any desire for party leaders to ultimately reward his effort with a nomination for State Supreme Court.

“Maybe when I’m 50 or 60,” he said then.

“Besides, I love this stuff," he added, referring to politics.

Walter, who is 49 and the influential vice chairman of the Erie County GOP, was nominated by Republicans, Democrats and Conservatives Wednesday in a cross-endorsement deal engineered by party leaders from Erie County in judicial nominating conventions attended by delegates from the eight counties of Western New York. Along with incumbent Republican Frank Caruso and Democrats John B. Licata and Grace M. Hanlon of Chautauqua County, the bipartisan backing allows all four to run unopposed and guarantees their election in November. 

Since 1995, election records indicate that more than half of Supreme Court judgeships – 28 of 55 – have been essentially decided by party leaders with no choice presented to voters. Those same leaders on Thursday again said they are comfortable with the Wednesday decisions.

"Community leaders across the aisle offered strong support for all four. They are impeccably qualified for the office," said Erie County Republican Chairman Karl J. Simmeth Jr.

He defended the selection of Walter, a partner in the law firm of Magavern, Magavern and Grimm who has wielded significant influence in party affairs as the county committee's vice chairman. Simmeth dismissed any concerns about the propriety of nominating a top GOP official by judicial nominating convention delegates who are largely party loyalists.

"I don't think he should be disqualified because he is the Republican vice chairman," Simmeth said, adding Walter is expected to soon resign his party post.

Walter, a former county legislator and assemblyman, did not return a call seeking comment.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said the deal stemmed from the Republican desire to protect the incumbent Caruso while he was committed to nominating Hanlon.

"Judge Caruso was important to them and it was important to me to make history with Grace Hanlon as the first LGBTQ candidate in history," he said. "And there has not been a judge from Chautauqua County in over a decade. This was important to the outlying counties."

Ralph C. Lorigo, chairman of the Erie County Conservative Party, said though voters will have no choice for Supreme Court this year they have been presented with candidates who are qualified.

"As long as they choose extremely qualified people, I'm OK with it," he said, adding he did not know until Wednesday afternoon that Walter had entered the discussions.

Zellner, meanwhile, said he understands questions about the lack of voter choice again this year.

"But it’s important to note and reiterate that judicial convention delegates are elected, in effect, by each party committee through the petition process," he said. "They’re empowered to act."

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