Sources are telling The Chronicle that newly elected County Court Judge Sue Maxwell-Barnes‘ husband, Rich Barnes, bribed Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner with political donations in order to secure the nomination for his wife.
Mr. Barnes is said to have bewailed the two parties’ practice of both nominating the same judicial candidates, effectively stripping voters of their right to select judges. The Republican and Democratic county chairman (who control the vast share of the judicial nominating convention’s weighted delegate vote in the 8th judicial district of Western New York) mutually agree upon the judicial candidates ahead of the nominating convention, in a process now referred to as ‘cross endorsement’.
By restricting ballot access in this way, the voters are not able to choose their judges.
While conversing with the associate, Mr. Barnes was within earshot of several others. They recall Mr. Barnes explaining that his contributions to Zellner’s political accounts last cycle would ensure that his wife would receive the nomination. He wasn’t going to “make the same mistakes as in the past,” he was overheard explaining.
Maxwell-Barnes ran for the judgeship the prior year but did not secure the Democratic Party’s nomination in that election. Zellner has long been criticized for soliciting bribes from judicial candidates and was lambasted for the practice by his chief rival, Frank Max, the former Cheektowaga Chairman.
Observers say that Mr. Barnes is in a tough spot. If the FBI’s Buffalo field office decides to question him, it would be illegal to mischaracterize his comments or to recall them with material inaccuracies. That could make for two influential cooperating witnesses in the FBI’s questioning of Zellner.
That several individuals were within earshot of Mr. Barnes when he was making his comments at a well-attended political event ensures that several witness accounts are available to ascertain the veracity of Barnes’ possible testimony.