Happening NOW in Westchester/the 9th Judicial District!

  • The WCLA PAC and Choice Matters Process
  • All “Pro-Choice” candidates are not created equal
  • 20 Candidates for 2 seats—and 2 Seeking Re-election
  • Charles (Charley) Wood, his record, and why WCLA PAC refuses to endorse him
  • This Is Unacceptable: A Survivor’s Right to Privacy

We’re all outraged by what is happening in our highest federal and state courts. The US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. A federal court judge in Texas is likely to overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone—making medication abortion illegal in all 50 states. Some state judges assign fetuses an attorney to cross-examine minors seeking abortion care. And on it goes…But our blame may be misplaced. These judges didn’t get there overnight. They rose through the ranks, with their records of decisions and affiliations available to be reviewed and considered at every stage.

Every General Election, candidates for “Judge” appear on your ballot.  These candidates are mostly picked by your political party, in accordance with State law, and yet without your direct involvement. There are rarely primaries. Once elected, judges for Family, County, and Supreme Court will serve for terms ranging from 10 –14 years, depending on the court.

What We’re Doing About That:
The WCLA PAC and Choice Matters Process

Every year, WCLA – Choice Matters (Choice Matters) interviews prospective candidates, on a nonpartisan basis, who may be running for Family, County, or NYS Supreme Court, 9th Judicial District, which encompasses Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties. The organization has been doing this for decades, and it makes sure to conduct the interviews with full respect to New York’s ethics law.Following the interviews, Choice Matters rates the prospective candidates as “Pro-Choice” or “Anti-Choice.” Choice Matters does not make endorsements.

No candidate is given a “pass” on this issue. Choice Matters extends its invitation for an interview by email, text, phone, and even US mail. It is made clear that if a candidate does not accept the invitation for an interview, that candidate will be rated “Anti-Choice.”

All “Pro-Choice” Candidates Are Not Created Equal

While Choice Matters does not endorse, Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion PAC (WCLA PAC) does. WCLA PAC evaluates the “whole” candidate, using the ratings as a guide.Sometimes, WCLA PAC chooses not to endorse a candidate rated “Pro-Choice” by Choice Matters. This is a reflection on the quality of the candidate as viewed through their record.

Last year, there was such a candidate. This individual was rated “Pro-Choice” by Choice Matter. However, he was also involved with the Federalist Society, including being recognized by their Albany Law School Chapter. The candidate did not receive WCLA PAC’s endorsement.

20 Candidates for 2 Seats—and 2 Seeking Re-Election

This year, the Westchester County Democratic Committee is screening 20 candidates who have presented themselves for consideration for two openings on the NYS Supreme Court, 9th Judicial District. Choice Matters has interviewed each of these candidates.

Of these 20 candidates, one has been rated “Anti-Choice.” The remaining 19 have been rated “Pro-Choice,” but are not equally strong. Seven are particularly well-versed in the law, and would be exceptional picks. The remaining 12 show a broad range of knowledge and understanding, with only one having a history that would result in a refusal by WCLA PAC to endorse him.

Candidates should not be advanced simply because they are running for re-election. Instead, their records should be studied and analyzed.

Two of the 20 candidates are seeking re-election—Francesca E. Connolly and Charles (Charley) D. Wood. Both candidates have been interviewed and their published decisions have been examined. While there was no issue with Francesca Connolly’s responses or her published record, there are serious concerns with Charles Wood’s.

Charles Wood and His Record

Much public attention has been paid to Project Veritas v. New York Times, the most famous case over which Wood presided. Wood’s ruling incited outrage, as it is considered “a violation of bedrock First Amendment principles that have been enshrined by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Please scroll to the bottom to read more about this case.)Meanwhile, it is with Wood’s decision in GCVAWCG-Doe v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York that both Choice Matters and WCLA PAC have serious problems. In this case, the plaintiff brought action pursuant to New York’s Child Victims Act against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York; Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary, a/k/a The Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a/k/a Immaculate Heart of Mary School; Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church and Edwin Gaynor.

As is common in sexual assault cases like rape, the plaintiff requested anonymity.

Wood denied the plaintiff in this sexual assault case the right to proceed under a pseudonym, and did so even though the request was unopposed by the defendants. The plaintiff had also “consented to confidentially providing the institutional defendants with his full name, address, and date of birth, so no prejudice would fall upon the institutional defendants in investigating this matter or in responding to the Verified Complaint.” Wood still decided in favor of “full public disclosure” rather than granting the request for anonymity.

Wood wrote in his decision: “While plaintiff’s application contains allegations of acts against him when he was a minor, involving highly sensitive matters, including potential social stigmatization, claims of public humiliation and embarrassment alone are not sufficient grounds for allowing a plaintiff to proceed anonymously.”

Note: Judge Wood uses the name “Charles” when signing judicial decisions, but “Charley” in the voter registration rolls.

This is Unacceptable: A Survivor’s Right to Privacy

Sexual assault survivors should not have to disclose their names publicly in order to seek justice. Doing so victimizes them all over again, with that information living forever on the internet for co-workers, neighbors, romantic partners, children and grandchildren, friends, and even foes to see.

We know that most victims of sexual assault suffer for decades, if not their whole lives, and that the trauma does not end with childhood. They should not be traumatized again by a judge’s rejection of their need for anonymity.

But in his decision, Wood dismissed that concern as, “the mere fact that the internet exists…”

And what would happen in Judge Wood’s court to a person assaulted while seeking abortion care? Would she also be required to reveal her name and her healthcare choices in order to hold an anti-choice extremist accountable?

People seeking abortion care need to know that their privacy is secure, and that the system will allow them to maintain their privacy if they choose to hold their abusers accountable. We cannot have a judicial system that victimizes them again.

Charles Wood’s interpretation and application of the Law with regard to victim privacy make him “unqualified” for WCLA PAC’s endorsement. He is not leading the courts in the direction New York is going and should continue to go, and he should not be advanced for re-election.

About Project Veritas v. New York Times

Project Veritas v. New York Times was, and still is, one of the most watched cases on First Amendment rights. Charles Wood’s decision was stayed in the NYS Court of Appeals in 2022, stopping his order to destroy documents gathered by the Times as part of their reporting on Project Veritas.“The case involves a lawyer’s advice to Project Veritas with regards to strategy for conducting their deceptive sting operations. The Times obtained memos describing the strategy. Project Veritas claimed attorney client privilege and Judge Wood not only agreed and stopped the Times from publishing their story, but also demanded that the Times destroy and or turn over all their notes. This is known as prior restraint and is unheard of except in cases of national security.

In support of the Times’ objections to the prior restraint and the order to turn over documents, the Reporters Committee and a coalition of 63 news organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Jan. 12, 2022, urging the appeals court to immediately vacate the lower court’s decision and order. “Prohibiting a news organization from publishing information of public interest is clearly unconstitutional,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown. “It was unconstitutional on day one, and it’s unconstitutional on day 85, and we’re glad to see it lifted.” This case was stayed on appeal and the Times published their story.”

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Brief: Project Veritas v. New York Times Company

To read more about this case, whether Charles Wood should have recused himself, and what Project Veritas is: CLICK HERE