“It’s always been a dream of mine to become a Long Beach City Court judge,” Hommel said. “I feel like I know the community. Certainly I’m qualified; I do have criminal and civil experience. I’ve been a criminal defense attorney, and I’ve handled landlord-tenant cases in both Long Beach and Hempstead. I’ve also tried criminal cases in both Nassau County and Queens County, and other boroughs. I would argue that I have much broader experience than [Tepper] does.”
Judicial candidates often receive little scrutiny, but Hommel — who won the Independence Party primary in September — made headlines in May when he filed a $1 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, claiming that he was fired from his position as assistant corporation counsel 48 hours after he announced his run for judge. One city official, who declined to be identified, told the Herald at the time that because Hommel’s job responsibilities included representing the city in court — often in front of Tepper — his candidacy created a conflict of interest, a contention that Hommel disputes.
“The lawsuit is claiming that my civil rights were violated — it’s based on constitutional rights,” he said. “If I’m elected, I don’t see a conflict of interest serving as a judge in Long Beach, and the case would continue, and it would be up to a jury to see what my damages were.”
Neither Tepper nor Hommel would be able to serve a full 10-year term, since the mandatory retirement age for judges in New York is 70. Hommel could serve for nine years, while Tepper, who will turn 70 next July, could serve only until Jan. 1, 2015. If he were re-elected, the city manager could appoint a judge who would serve for less than a year, and be required to run in a regular election in November 2015.
New York voters will have an opportunity to change the age requirement on Nov. 5, if they approve an amendment to the state constitution that would allow state Supreme Court justices to serve up to five additional two-year terms past age 70, while appellate court judges could serve up to 10 years beyond that age as well. There has also been talk among state legislators of raising the retirement age for lower court judges.