Judging by the ballot, Old Westbury residents would think they have only one choice for village justice in the June 20 election: Albert Khafif.
But Susan Schmidt-Chorost, a practicing attorney who was appointed to the job in January, is asking voters to write in her name and elect her to a full four-year term.
Khafif, a 15-year village resident and retired attorney, got a judge to remove Schmidt-Chorost’s name from the ballot last week after a successful court challenge.
“I think I’m doing a good job, and I think I can beat him, but I have a major blow because my name is not going to be on the ballot,” Schmidt-Chorost said.
The race comes two years after a write-in campaign that turned the village government on its head.
Mayor Fred J. Carillo appointed Schmidt-Chorost to the village bench following former Justice Edward Joachim’s death in December.
Schmidt-Chorost, the daughter of Judge Robert W. Schmidt, a former state Appellate Division justice, was among two candidates whom Carillo and the village Board of Trustees interviewed for the job, village officials said.
She and Khafif, a member of the village Board of Zoning Appeals, were the only two to file petitions declaring their candidacy by the May 16 deadline, village Administrator Brian Ridgway said. Schmidt-Chorost submitted 166 signatures from voters under the “Independent Party of Old Westbury,” and Khafif submitted 116 under the “Truth Justice Party.”
Khafif objected to Schmidt-Chorost’s petition on May 19, saying her party name violated state election law because it was too similar to that of the Independence Party, which is considered a major political party.
The Nassau County Board of Elections rejected that argument. But state Supreme Court Judge Daniel Palmieri ruled May 25 that the names were too similar and that Schmidt-Chorost should be removed from the ballot.
To Khafif, Schmidt-Chorost’s failure to follow a straightforward law indicates she is not the best fit for the village bench.
“I feel like this is something she should have known,” Khafif said. “If you’re running for an election, you should read the sections of the election law that pertain to your election.”
Khafif also contends she was appointed in a clandestine process after Carillo told him he would be the first one considered for the job if Joachim died or retired.
Khafif was waiting for a promised formal announcement that the village was soliciting résumés for the job, he said, but one never came, so he never offered his name for consideration.
If elected, Khafif said, he would not take health insurance benefits that come with the job or the $600 stipend for each court session.
But Schmidt-Chorost noted that Khafif collected petition signatures for Carillo last year when he ran on the Independent Party line alongside Trustees Marina Chimerine and Edward Novick, which Carillo confirmed.
Schmidt-Chorost said she got the appointment through a competitive process that Khafif should have known about, especially because he already has a position in the village.
Since taking the bench, Schmidt-Chorost said, she has worked to reduce a two-year case backlog that accumulated while Joachim was ill.
“Although he is my neighbor and I have nothing personally against him, he [Khafif] seems to surround himself by controversy wherever he goes,” Schmidt-Chorost said.
All five members of the village Board of Trustees endorsed Schmidt-Chorost in the race after a recent meeting with Khafif, according to Carillo, Chimerine and Trustee Cory Baker.
Carillo and Chimerine declined to say why they would not support Khafif. But Baker said his legal background and history of litigation raised concerns.
“It’s pretty simple — I appointed her and I support her, and I think actions speak louder than words,” Carillo said.
Neither Khafif nor Schmidt-Chorost have any record of official discipline as attorneys.
But Rockland County judge fined Khafif and another lawyer $500 apiece in 2005 for “misleading” the court by delaying a civil case in which he was representing a student who injured herself in a high school gym class.
Khafif said the 12-year-old sanction was a “calculated move” to get the case out from under a judge who he thought was being unfair to his client.
Khafif also confirmed that he previously sued the East Williston school district, but said the case is sealed from public view and declined to discuss it.
The ordeal reflects hypocrisy by the three trustees who promised more transparency when they were elected as surprise write-in candidates in 2015, Khafif said.
“This is another secret election by the Village of Old Westbury where they try to put in candidates unopposed so they can stack the village the way they want it,” Khafif said.
But to Carillo and other trustees, Khafif has denied village residents the chance to make a real choice on the ballot.
“[E]veryone should have been on the ballot,” Carillo said. “Why disenfranchise everyone who signed her petition?”