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Supporters Rally after Asian-American Justice Loses Democratic Endorsement

Community residents, elected officials, and state bar association members gathered on the steps of New York City Hall Tuesday to criticize a county Democratic committee for not recommending New York's first female Asian-American State Supreme Court justice for reelection.

The rally, attended by dozens of supporters of Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, came a week after the New York Post first reported that the judge was barred from running as a Democrat in the November election. Quoting multiple unnamed sources, the article said the Independent Judicial Screening Panel of the New York County Democratic Committee determined Ling-Cohan was "lazy" and "slow" in dealing with her caseload.

Dozens of supporters of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, including New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin (center), call for the New York City Democratic Committee to reconsider nominating Ling-Cohan for judgeship on this November's election ballot. Chris Fuchs / NBC News

The article also quoted an unnamed source who said the judge, born and raised in New York to immigrants from China, was "disorganized, takes a lot of time off," and was "late with decisions."

The screening process decides who can run under the Democratic party in Manhattan for State Supreme Court this November. As of Tuesday, Ling-Cohan had not been officially informed of the committee's decision, supporters said.

"None of the things that are being written about her have I ever heard inside 60 Centre Street," retired Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman, one of Ling-Cohan's former colleagues, said at the City Hall rally following chants of "justice for the justice."

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The New York County Democratic Committee did not immediately return a voicemail and email Tuesday requesting comment.

A woman who answered the phone at Ling-Cohan's chambers told NBC News the judge couldn't comment because she was working when the rally took place.

Democratic City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who was among the city and state elected officials in attendance, offered evidence that she said proved the allegations against Ling-Cohan were untrue.

Citing data from the Office of Court Administration, Mendez said Ling-Cohan, who was appointed to the appellate court in 2014, took only 30 vacation days and 16 sick days over the past six years. Between 2008 and 2014, Ling-Cohan also decided 4,200 motions, roughly two a day, Mendez said.

Jerry Shiao, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said he knows Ling-Cohan is a hard worker.

"She loves our community," he said.

Among the cases Ling-Cohan has heard was Hernandez v. Robles, in which she ruled in 2005 that barring same-sex couples from marrying violated New York's constitution. That decision was overturned on appeal, but New York later passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011, which was signed into law the same year.

Asian American Bar Association of New York executive director Yang Chen said Ling-Cohan, one of its founding board members, is a trailblazer who has always been involved in the Asian-American and LGBTQ communities.

"She is the people's servant," he said.

The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club said the screening panel's rejection of Ling-Cohan's was "tainted with politics and conflicts of interest."

"The panel was stacked with lawyers from the real estate and corporate sectors who were determined to remove her from the bench because of her fairness to tenants and consumers," president Allen Roskoff said in a statement.

Those at the rally called on New York County Leader and state Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright to reconsider the screening panel's decision before the party's judicial convention on Sept. 22. In a letter to Wright dated Sept. 2, provided to reporters, Mendez asked for a new panel to review Ling-Cohan for the nomination.

The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York also urged Wright to do the same, writing in a Sept. 2 letter that "removing an incumbent is extraordinary" and that Ling-Cohan "embodies characteristics that all judges should strive for."

"She had the foresight to safeguard the equal protection of members of our community before it was politically popular," the letter reads.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a Democrat whose district includes Chinatown, where Ling-Cohan was first elected to Civil Court in 1995, criticized the nomination process as "flawed and tainted."

"Let the voter, not the party insider, decide," Chin said.

Mendez suggested in a separate letter to Wright, dated Sept. 4, that the party could also adopt a subcommittee's recommendation to approve Ling-Cohan's nomination. If Ling-Cohan does not receive the party's nod, the state appellate court stands to lose its first female Asian-American judge.

"We as Asian Americans and people of color have fought long and hard to be represented," Chin said to applause. "We cannot go back."

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