Courts

Feinman Sworn In To Court Of Appeals

Paul Feinman was ceremonially sworn in on Wednesday as the newest judge on the state’s highest court — the first openly gay man to serve on the Court of Appeals.

With his family and husband in attendance in the chambers of the Court of Appeals, Feinman spoke of his late brother, a comic and poet, who was also gay, as an inspiration.

“Were it not for him and all the leaders of the LGBT community and the LGBT judges who preceded me in the judiciary, it was all of them who forged a path before me and without them this day would not have been possible,” Feinman said. ”
From this, I understand I have an obligation for those who come after me.”

Feinman is joining one of the more diverse courts in its history, replacing the late Sheila Abdus-Salaam, who police say committed suicide earlier this year. The entirety of the court, based on mandatory retirements, has been nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat (Cuomo has appointed a Republican, Michael Garcia).

“Compare this court to any other court in the country — extraordinarily diverse,” said Vin Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor. “I don’t care what the category is. We’ve got a diverse court, which is great, because when they go into conference, they’re going in with different backgrounds, different wisdom, different perspectives.”

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins also hailed the moment, and Feinman’s credentials.

“Becoming the Appeals Court’s first open LGBT judge will bring further diversity to our highest court to greater reflect New York’s diverse citizenship,” she said. “Judge Feinman’s qualifications and skills gained throughout his distinguished career will also be a great addition and I wish him well in this great responsibility.”

Court Of Appeals Dismisses Challenge To De Blasio For WFP Support

A legal challenge to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s designation as the candidate of the Working Families Party was tossed on Thursday by the state’s highest court.

The state Supreme Court and Appellate Division Court had previously rejected the challenge brought by the Reform Party on the grounds the suit “had failed to name a necessary party” — in this case the executive board of the Working Families Party.

In an unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision.

De Blasio, seeking a second term, faces former New York City Councilman Sal Albanese in a primary next month. Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis is the Republican nominee.

131opn17 Decision by Nick Reisman on Scribd

George Bundy Smith, Judge Who Helped End Death Penalty, Has Died

Former state Court of Appeals Judge George Bundy Smith, who authored the decision that effectively ended the death penalty in New York state, died on Saturday at his home in Harlem.

He was 80.

Appointed to the Court of Appeals by Mario Cuomo in 1992, Smith proved to be a reliably liberal jurist on the court. Nearly 10 years after Cuomo, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, had left office, Smith authored the 2004 decision that ended the practice in New York, taking issue with the state’s sentencing guidelines.

“George is a man of few words, but they are absolutely the right words,” said then-Court of Appeals Judge Judith Kaye in 1995.

Smith was born April 7, 1937 in New Orleans and attended Yale Law School in 1955. During his time in law school, Smith took part in demonstrations in Alabama as a freedom rider. He was arrested while sitting at a whites-only lunch counter at a bus depot alongside civil rights leaders Ralph Abernathy and William Sloane Coffin.

“He leaves our nation a better place than he found it,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in a statement. “We will miss him deeply.”

Smith’s career started as a staff attorney at the NAACP and was a founding member of the Metropolitan Black Association.

He later rose through the judiciary to become a justice at the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

In 1992, he was nominated to replace Judge Fritz Alexander, by Cuomo.

“He was a giant who left a mark on New York, and we are all the better for it,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “My father was proud to appoint Judge Bundy Smith to the Court of Appeals. I was proud to know him, and was honored he presided over my swearing in as Attorney General.”

He was ultimately replaced by Judge Eugene Pigott, nominated Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, in 2006. Pataki had criticized the death penalty decision as “wrong” and was criticized by Democratic lawmakers in Albany for appointing a less diverse bench. At the time, Smith was the only black judge on the bench.

The top Republican in the Senate on Monday praised Smith’s tenure and career.

“Judge Smith’s legal and professional career showed a commitment to independence, fairness, and the rule of law,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “With his work at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and to be just the third African American on the state’s highest court, he exhibited a lifelong advocacy for civil rights. On behalf of the entire state Senate, I offer my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

Abdus-Salaam’s Death Ruled A Suicide

The April death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam has been ruled a suicide by drowning by the New York City medical examiner’s office.

Abdus-Salaam was found dead in the Hudson River on April 12; she had been reported missing a day earlier.

Abdus-Salaam was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June nominated Paul Feinman to succeed Abdus-Salaam on the bench. Feinman is the court’s first openly gay judge.

Panel Censures Judge Over Ticket Fixing

The administrator of the state’s judicial conduct panel on Thursday recommended the removal of an Oswego County justice after he was found to have helped fix a traffic ticket for an acquaintance.

“A judge does not need ethics training to know that ticket-fixing perverts justice and is wrong,” said Robert Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator. “Few things are as plain and simple. After 40 years of Commission decisions on the subject, including some removals from office, ticket-fixing can be a career-ending mistake that no judge should risk.”

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct found Justice James Aluzzi should be censured for effort to help dismiss the ticket of a businessman found to have been driving with tinted windows.

According to the commission, Aluzzi took the ticket to the court in which was pending, telling the clerk to ask the judge handling the case that it be dismissed.

The clerk complied, the commission said, because it was a request from a judge.

Aluzzi has served as justice in the town of Volney since 2003 and his current term expires at the end of the year.

Bonacic: ‘No Rush’ In Court Of Appeals Confirmation

From the Morning Memo:

As the legislative session winds down this month in Albany, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic said he is in no rush to confirm whoever Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominates to the state Court of Appeals.

“I’m in no rush to fast forward anything,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The nomination, from a slate of 10 candidates released last week by a screening panel, would fill the vacancy left by the death in April of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.

The open seat leaves a tight time frame for Cuomo to nominate a judge and have the Senate confirm the new member before lawmakers leave town for the year on June 21.

“I think the governor will give us a nominee because he’s expressed a desire to have the seventh court of appeals judge in place before we leave for the end of session,” Bonacic said.

But he doesn’t want to speed through what should be a deliberative process, Bonacic said.

“I was impressed with the nominees. Many of them were appellate judges with impeccable records,” he said. “I’m not so sure it will get done. We’re not going to rush it for the sake of having an expedited process. I don’t believe in that. We’ll have a thorough vetting.”

Anatomy Of An Error

Reporters hate making errors.

But what happens when an error is one that has been running for four years and has been repeated over the last 24 hours?

That’s the conundrum for the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam. In the dozens of local and national articles published online, in newspapers and aired on television in the hours since her body was found in the Hudson River, she has been described as the first Muslim woman to serve on the Court of Appeals or the first Muslim judge in the U.S.

That description is not accurate. Abdus-Salaam was born Sheila Turner and while her first husband was Muslim, she never converted to Islam, according to Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer.

Full stop: This, of course, does not negate her status as an important trailblazer in the state’s legal history. She was the first black woman to serve on the state’s highest court.

Spencer, the court spokesman, told me Abdus-Salaam did not mind being referred to a as a Muslim woman and never corrected it.

That being said, it’s fascinating, and a bit disturbing to me as a reporter, how this went unchecked, if only for posterity’s sake. Someday there will be a practicing Muslim serving on the Court of Appeals who should be the one to be identified and honored with the distinction.

Attempting to reverse engineer the error and find its source was not easy. The first and earliest erroneously identifying her religion was in a press release from Sen. Kevin Parker’s office.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office never identified her religion in any of its official statements.

The stories that appeared in The Daily News and The New York Times from April 2013 and May 2013 — the time between her nomination by Cuomo and her confirmation by the state Senate — do not identify her religion either. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a statement released on Wednesday evening, did refer to her incorrectly as the “first Muslim female judge” in the United States.

Which leaves me with this conclusion: Assumptions were made by reporters, at best given only a cursory check and then reported. And during her life she never thought it was important to correct the error, if she saw one at all.

Trail-Blazing Court Of Appeals Judge Dies

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Muslim woman and first African-American woman to serve on the state’s highest court, has died, according to New York City police officials.

She was 65.

Abdus-Salaam’s body was found on Wednesday in the Hudson River, showing no signs of obvious injury.

Born in Washington, D.C., Abdus-Salaam was nominated to the state Court of Appeals as an associate judge in 2013 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and confirmed in May by the state Senate.

“I was proud to appoint her to the state’s highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, loved ones and colleagues during this trying and difficult time.”

Previously, she had been elected to the state Supreme Court in 1993 and was appointed an associate justice of the Appellate Division, First Department in March 2009 by Gov. David Paterson.

Gallivan: ‘In A Good Place’ On Raise The Age

From the Morning Memo:

As lawmakers continue to reconcile their differences over a proposal to raise the age at which criminal offenders are treated as adults from 16 to 18 years old, Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, the Senate point-man for the bill, wouldn’t quite say he’s confident it will pass.

“If people continue to listen to each other and act like adults, as we all have been, we can come to a conclusion and we can get to a place that I think works for everybody, and when I say everybody, our citizens first,” he said.

Gallivan said, overall, lawmakers and the governor are “in a good place” with the proposal, and most legislators agree with the fundamental principles that have been hammered out to date.

“We’ve always been concerned about public safety,” he said. “We recognize that 16 and 17-year-olds are different, that they should not be in the same housing. They should not be housed in a corrections setting with those that are 18 and older. We’re in agreement with the Assembly and the governor on that.”

The main disagreement continues to be about how a proposed two-tiered court system would work, specifically what would constitute lower-level offenses which would be tried in Family Court. The rest of the cases would play out in an alternative criminal court called a youth diversion court.

“As we get down to the details of it, different questions get raised and we have to try to work the details out,” Gallivan said.

A Social Media Warning For Judges

An annual report from the state commission charged with overseeing the judiciary on Friday warned judges of using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook that could undermine their impartiality.

In the report, the commission pointed to the case of a judge in St. Lawrence County who wrote critically in a Facebook post of the prosecution in a case stemming from nominating petitions being filed to qualify for the ballot.

The judge in the case was admonished.

“Particularly where pseudonyms are used, the judge may not know that a person who responds to his/her posting may be involved in a case before the judge or a judicial colleague,” the report states. “At the very least, the appearance of impropriety may well be created in such a circumstance, particularly if others who access the social media page are aware that the judge’s correspondent is also involved in a matter pending before the judge.”

All together, the commission process 1,944 complaints in 2016, the third most in history.

nyscjc.2017annualreport by Nick Reisman on Scribd