Races for civil court judges are usually sleepy affairs, with entrenched county parties dominating who will get a glide path to a nomination, and fairly lucrative positions on the bench. These county parties work to knock potential opponents off the ballot, and make it nearly impossible for there to be a contested election— of the twenty-four vacancies this year, only four are being contested. Once elected, these judges can then be transferred to criminal court or family court, making these seemingly boring civil court positions critical for aspiring jurists.
It's a shame that these races are rarely contested, both for democracy and the greater criminal legal system, but also because in the case of one Manhattan civil court primary, we're seeing some serious anti-juggler bias.
Late last night, signs went up in the East Village accusing civil court nominee David Fraiden of not only being a Trump administration-appointed immigration judge, but also…a fire breather/juggler, who attended "circus school."
Fraiden, who's running against Carmen Pacheco, has been touting on posters throughout the neighborhood that he's the only candidate who actually lives in the civil court district he'd represent; Pachecho lives in Brooklyn. But what he hasn't been as forthcoming about is his background in juggling/fire breathing (as well as his appointment to an immigration judgeship by former Trump Attorney General William Barr). Pacheco was ranked as "most highly qualified" by the Manhattan Democratic Party, while Fraiden was left off their list of recommended candidates.
The posters that appeared last night were found directly outside of the polling station at PS 63 on East 3rd street—a clear violation of New York City election law, which mandates that campaign literature be kept at least 100 feet away from a poll site's entrance (by early morning, the offending signs had been removed). There was also no indication on the posters of who paid for them.
One of the two QR codes on the poster sends would-be voters to a defunct website of Fraiden's that charmingly recounts his journey into the world of juggling and magic.
"It all began—so he is told—in mid-winter 1975, in the great State of New York, County of Bronx, when David Alan Fraiden was born smiling into the world. The world smiled back," the biography section of the website begins.
For his part, Fraiden has seemed unapologetic about his life as a fire breather/circus school attendee, referencing it in multiple interviews. But clearly, someone feels that this fact should be enough to sink his candidacy. When reached for comment, the Pacheco campaign told Hell Gate that they had "no idea who put the signs up," and denied it was anyone tied to their campaign. "We've seen them around the neighborhood, for sure," a campaign spokesperson said.
Will Manhattan voters juggle their future with a clown judge? Or will his campaign go down (or up!) in flames? Would he drive a clown car to the courtroom, and if so, how many judges could he fit in there? Would giant shoes stick out from his robe? Juggling bowling pins is one thing, but what about a crowded docket filled with pressing court cases? Would a rubber chicken be his courtroom deputy?