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Lawsuit seeks to knock Lovely Warren off the judicial ballot

Then-Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is pictures, speaking at a microphone in from of city and state flags in a 2021 file photo.
Former Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is running for City Court Judge, setting up a potential Democratic primary in June 2024.

Mayor Lovely Warren’s return to politics could be short-lived.

Her bid to become a Rochester City Court judge is facing a legal challenge from her opponent Mike Geraci. The local lawyer filed a complaint Wednesday accusing Warren of violating state election law in her petitioning for the judgeship.

Namely, Warren has filed petitions for both the City Court judge seat and for a member of the Monroe County Democratic Committee. Under rules set in such races, a judicial candidate cannot seek political office while simultaneously running for a judgeship.

“The office of City Court Justice and member of the Democratic County Committee are INCOMPATIBLE,” the complaint reads, using all caps for emphasis.

The complaint also notes that Warren had circulated petitions for both the Democratic Committee seat and for City Court Judge at the same time.

Judicial elections hold greater safeguards than typical elections to avoid political conflicts of interest or bias, given a judge is supposed to be neutral. For example, a judicial candidate is barred from making any personal donations to political candidates or events.

Geraci cites a 1999 case out of Suffolk County as providing legal precedent for ending Warren’s run for judge. In that instance, Ann Spelman had attempted to run for a seat in the Suffolk County Republican Committee at the same time as running for a district judge seat in the town of Huntington. Spelman had recognized that she couldn’t hold both seats at the same time but thought she could run for both.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals determined she had to be removed from running in both races.

“The fact that the appellant could resign from her position as a Member of the County Committee does not mitigate the policy concerns specified by the Court of Appeals,” the opinion reads. “It is for this reason that the appellant's name should be stricken from the primary ballots as a candidate for public office of District Court Judge and as a candidate for the party office of Member of the County Committee.”

The first appearance in Geraci’s case against Warren is set for Monday. Warren, who announced her judicial run last month, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.