It's an obscure but powerful corner of the state's judicial system - and one of the last bastions of political patronage.

Surrogate's Court appoints guardians who often make hefty fees representing the estates of people who die without wills.

Now, NY1 has learned that the head of the Staten Island Republican Party is hoping to claim the plum job of borough surrogate for himself.

"I've had conversations with Ron Castorina, and the passion that I talked about, I've heard it in his voice for being a judge," Staten Island Borough President James Oddo said.

Surrogate's Court Judge Robert Gigante, a longtime Democrat, is set to retire this year, creating a rare opening.

For years, it was believed that Oddo would run for the job. But he abruptly announced this month that he would not.

That created an opening for Castorina, a longtime trial lawyer and state assemblyman. He's planning to step down as the borough's Republican chairman in the coming days, and then declare his candidacy for Staten Island Surrogate.

"It's quite typical for a party leader or someone with close association with the county organization to move into the Surrogate's role," College of Staten Island political science professor Richard Flanagan said.

Surrogate's Court judges are elected to 14-year terms, making it extremely unlikely any candidate will run unopposed.

Castorina could face a challenge from State Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a popular Democrat from the North Shore who told NY1 that he's also exploring a possible run.

That could set up a rare competitive race on Staten Island, with so much at stake for party insiders:

"The expectation is that the then-elected surrogate would steer work to friends of the party," Flanagan said.

But that may be lost on voters, who often show little interest in judicial races.

The winner of the election may very well be determined by name recognition.