Manhattan Surrogate Judge - Democratic Primary



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Age: 60
Acting Justice, New York State Supreme Court

Education: Syracuse University (BA); Syracuse University (MA); Brooklyn Law School (JD)

Judge Barbara Jaffe has been an acting New York State Supreme Court Justice in the 1st Judicial District since 2010. In that time she has been specially assigned to matrimonial bench trials, which she believes provides her with relevant experience regarding the division of assets since the Surrogate handles the estates of decedents without wills or legal counsel.
Prior to her current position, she spent eight years as an elected judge of the Civil Court of New York, having first run unopposed in 2001. During her ten years as a judge, and before that, nine years as principal law clerk, and seven as principal court attorney in New York she has worked and gained experience in many different divisions of the law.  Judge Jaffe is a reform-minded individual, pledging to push the state legislature to update procedures to improve the function of the Surrogate’s Court and to improve public access to the courts. She also supports the development of a unified reporting system for the administration of the court, and mandatory electronic filing throughout the court system.
Regarding judicial reforms supported by Citizens Union, Judge Jaffe supports a merit-based appointment system for judges, and believes that the independence and broad representation of judicial screeners is particularly important to ensure that there are qualified, impartial individuals serving as judges. Judge Jaffe is prepared to administer the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court with an eye towards increasing efficiency and accessibility. She would seek funding for additional personnel for the court.  Even with the current level of resources, she says she has the management experience necessary to alleviate the problems faced by families by reducing delays in resolving and deciding cases. Acknowledging the potential for conflicts of interest in the process of appointing public administrators and their counsel, Judge Jaffe pledges to create an intermediary committee to vet appointments which would mitigate the potential for abuse or patronage in the handling of estates. She also pledged to strictly adhere to the court-approved list of guardians in guardianship proceedings. Judge Jaffe’s reform sensibilities, experience and commitment to improve the operations of the Surrogate’s Court have led Citizens Union to prefer her candidacy for office.




Age: 50
Judge, New York County Civil Court

Education: Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Ureña (BA); CUNY Law School (JD)

Judge Rita Mella is currently a New York County Civil Court Judge, having won a contested primary and contested general election in 2006. Prior to this position, she acted for one year as Court Attorney and Law Clerk to Surrogate Margarita Lopez Torres in Brooklyn. Mella seeks election to the Surrogate Court because she wants to expand her public service, stating that she attended law school in order to serve the broader public. Her proudest accomplishment in the Civil Court has been her presiding over the Manhattan Misdemeanor Treatment Court, an alternative-to-incarceration program. In the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court, Judge Mella would strive to tackle the issue of delays by reforming the processes and procedures of the court in order to expedite review of cases to better serve the public. She also promises to be proactive in public outreach, education, and training to inform communities of the services of the court and of the need to plan for the future with regard to wills and guardianship. Judge Mella is a reform-minded individual, supporting merit-based appointment of judges and efforts to reduce conflicts of interest in the Surrogate Court, particularly those regarding the appointment of the public administrator and counsel. Judge Mella’s prior experience with both the legal and administrative workings of the Surrogate’s Court is noteworthy, along with her enthusiasm and passion for the position.  Citizens Union believes that Judge Mella would be a capable and reform-minded Surrogate, though has decided to support her opponent because her opponent has greater needed administrative experience as a judge.