Courts

DiFiore Plans ‘Excellence Initiative’ For Courts

difiorecuomoGov. Andrew Cuomo formally swore in the state’s newest top judge on Monday: former Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. She’s the second woman to hold the top post on the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

“Her professional credentials and experience combined with her personal skill and integrity equip her to not only manage but to excel in this multi-faceted position of chief judge of the Court of Appeals,” Cuomo said.

The event was held as a kick off for the state Court of Appeals session, which generally begins earlier, but has deal with multiple vacancies and the Legislature not returning to consider DiFiore’s nomination until January.

DiFiore had been previously and officially sworn in by Judge Eugene Pigott last month after her Senate confirmation.

DiFiore succeeds Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who retired last year after reaching the mandatory retirement age. While he focused on legal services for the poor, DiFiore says she wants to take a top-to-bottom approach of the state’s court system.

“We in the court system will be relentless in our efforts to achieve and maintain excellence throughout our court system,” DiFiore said in her remarks, “giving the people of New York state the level of justice services they rightfully expect and which they rightfully deserve.”

Wearing the robes of the late Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who died last month, DiFiore says she wants to find ways of improving how the judicial branch of government operates through what she is calling the Excellence Initiative, though the details remain vague.

“My team and I will be working to improve all aspects of our system and services toward achieving operational and decisional excellence in everything we do,” she said.

DiFiore’s formal swearing in on Monday came the same day as the Senate confirmed former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia to the bench. Garcia is Cuomo’s first Republican nominee to the court and officials have denied there was a trade between the governor and Senate Republicans for the judicial nominations.

“No governor named Cuomo would believe a court is complete without a boy from Queens,” Cuomo said with a smile.

DiFiore is Cuomo’s sixth nominee to fill a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals. By the end of the year, he will have to select a replacement for Pigott, the final appointee of Gov. George Pataki, who is reaching the mandatory retirement age.

Arcuri Files To Run For Judgship

Former Rep. Michael Arcuri has filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to run for a county judge post in Oneida County.

Arcuri, an Oneida County district attorney from 1993 through 2006, is eyeing the post currently held by Judge Barry Donalty, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Arcuri was elected to Congress in 2006, serving two terms after he was defeated by Republican Richard Hanna for the central New York congressional seat. After leaving Congress, Arcuri went into private practice as an attorney in Syracuse.

He announced his plans to run for judge last week, pointing to his time as a prosecutor as well as a lawyer in private practice.

Hanna himself is due to retire at the end of this year after serving three terms.

DiFiore Confirmed As State’s Top Judge

Janet DiFiore was confirmed on Thursday by the state Senate to become the next chief judge on the Court of Appeals, the state’s top court.

The vote in the chamber was unanimous; Queens Democratic Sen. Tony Avella abstained, citing his being a plaintiff in a case against New York City.

DiFiore becomes the second woman in state history to lead the court. The first, retired Chief Judge Judith Kaye, died earlier this month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated DiFiore, the Westchester district attorney, to replace Jonathan Lippman, who retired at the end of December.

“She has demonstrated unparalleled integrity and independence throughout her career as both a judge and prosecutor, and her commitment to the highest ethical standards makes her one of New York’s finest public servants. Her keen intellect, unassailable credibility, and diverse experience will serve the Court well and ensure a stronger and fairer state for all,” Cuomo said. “I congratulate Chief Judge DiFiore on her confirmation, and look forward to seeing her lead the Court for years to come.”

Cuomo on Wednesday nominated Michael Garcia, a former U.S. attorney and a Republican, to fill the spot vacated by Judge Susan Read, who retired in the summer.

DiFiore’s nomination was backed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and supported by the state Bar Association.

“Ms. DiFiore’s breadth of experience, intellect and collegiality will serve her well as she leads the Court of Appeals,” the association said in a statement. “As both a judge and a prosecutor, she has demonstrated her commitment to justice and fairness in the courtroom.”

Cuomo Taps Garcia For Court Of Appeals

Former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia on Wednesday was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Cuomo is turning to Garcia to replace Judge Susan Phillips Read, who retired in August.

The nomination came the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nomination of Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore to become the next chief of the Court of Appeals. The full Senate was not expected to consider DiFiore’s nomination until next week.

But after the nomination of Garcia was announced by Cuomo, a Senate Republican spokesman announced DiFiore’s nomination would be taken up by the full Senate on Thursday.

Garcia has worked with Senate Republicans before, including representing the conference when lawmakers attempted to block subpoenas issued by the Moreland Commission, the anti-corruption panel formed in 2013 by Cuomo.

“Michael Garcia is a talented, experienced, and skilled prosecutor who will make a tremendous addition to the Court of Appeals,” Cuomo said in a statement. “From his work in the private sector, to serving with distinction as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and in the Department of Homeland Security, Michael has the kind of broad, well-rounded perspective on the law that our state’s highest court requires. I am pleased to nominate him to serve as an Associate Judge. I am also grateful to the Commission on Judicial Nomination – led by the late Honorable Judith Kaye – for recommending a number of talented and qualified candidates for this position.”

Garcia is Cuomo’s first Republican appointee to the court (DiFiore is a Democrat who switched parties).

Considered in 2014 as a potential Republican candidate for attorney general, Garcia never pursued a campaign against Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman.

And nearly two years ago exactly, Garcia attended a fundraiser for Cuomo’s 2014 Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

Garcia had been among the attorneys and judges recommended the judicial screening panel for both the chief judge post as well as Read’s seat on the court.

That Cuomo is comfortable in appointing a Republican who was an appointee of President George W. Bush demonstrates that he likely feels more secure with the political left in New York following months of taking liberal positions on the minimum wage and criminal justice reforms.

Garcia was led the high-profile Southern District of New York, which is currently led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has prosecuted nearly a dozen public corruption cases.

Garcia is the sixth nominee Cuomo has made to the court. The only non-Cuomo appointee to the Court of Appeals is Judge Eugene Pigott, who was nominated by Reublican Gov. George Pataki.

DiFiore Clears Judiciary Committee, Full Senate Consideration Tomorrow

Updated: After the nomination of Michael Garcia, a Republican former prosecutor and official in President George W. Bush’s administration was announced by Cuomo, a Senate Republican spokesman announced DiFiore’s nomination would be taken up by the full Senate on Thursday.

DiFiore’s nomination appeared to be briefly held up through at least next week, but the vote for her approval crystallized only after Garcia, a Republican who has support among GOP lawmakers, was nominated by Cuomo the same day.

Westchester County District Attorney Jane DiFiore’s nomination as top judge in New York cleared the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but the full Senate is not likely to take up the confirmation until next week.

The vote in the Judiciary Committee to back DiFiore’s confirmation was unanimously approved.

Still, state lawmakers on the panel raised concerns with her ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo: She was appointed the first chairwoman of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a lobbying and ethics regulator formed in 2011, but has been criticized for its structure and lack of transparency.

DiFiore’s husband, Dennis Glazer, was an unpaid appointee by Cuomo on the state’s casino location siting board.

In the hearing, DiFiore insisted she would remain independent of the Cuomo administration.

“I share your interest in judicial independence and I care deeply about the independence of the judiciary and the judicial system,” she said.

At the same time, Republicans on the panel grilled DiFiore over her opinion on executive authority. Cuomo has in recent months issued a series of executive orders and actions that have circumvented the Legislature, including efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 for fast-food workers.

“The chief judge does have many different roles,” DiFiore said. “I understand executive authority and I understand the limitations of executive authority.”

If approved, DiFiore would replace retired Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Deskovic, Freed By DNA Evidence, Opposes DiFiore Nomination

Among advocates in the wrongful conviction community, Jeffrey Deskovic’s case is a well known one.

In 2006, Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore signed off on a DNA test that ultimately led to Deskovic being freed after he was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1990.

The Deskovic case was one of the examples Gov. Andrew Cuomo cited when he nominated DiFiore to become the next chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

But as DiFiore today faces confirmation before the Senate to lead the state’s top court, Deskovic says her confirmation should be denied.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee posted online, Deskovic writes that DiFiore’s confirmation should be denied.

“My appreciating DA DiFiore doing the right thing in my case does not mean that I turn away from or remain silent in the face of her overall abysmal record on wrongful conviction and prosecutorial misconduct,” Deskovic wrote. “Please do not get caught up in the hype surrounding her actions in my case.”

Deskovic points to several cases DiFiore’s office prosecuted that advocates for overturning wrongful convictions have claimed were mishandled or of the mentally disabled.

Nevertheless, the nomination of DiFiore has been backed by the state district attorney’s association. In a separate letter to the Judiciary Committee, DA Association President Thomas Zugibe, the Rockland County prosecutor, pointed to her formation of the Justice Task Force.

“The Justice Task Force is examining the causes of wrongful convictions and recommends legislative and systemic changes to the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions,” he wrote.

public_record.pdf by Nick Reisman

Former Chief Judge Dies At 77

Former Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye has died at the age of 77, the Court of Appeals confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Kaye was appointed the top judge in New York by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1993 and served in the post until 2008. She was the first woman to lead the state’s judiciary.

In recent years, the retired chief judge had been leading efforts to screen potential candidates for judicial nominations.

In a statement, Acting Chief Judge Eugene Pigott said the entire state court system is saddened by the loss.

“She has been an inspiration to all of us who were privileged to know her and she will be greatly missed,” Pigott said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, announced flags in New York would fly at half-staff in honor of Kaye.

“She stood for justice and equality for all people, and embodied the spirit of integrity in public service like none other,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Chief Judge Kaye’s passing is a true loss to our state, and I have no doubt that her legacy will continue to be felt for years to come. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I offer my heartfelt condolences to her family and loved ones.”

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement said she was “deeply saddened” by Kaye’s death.

“As the first woman to serve on the New York State Court of Appeals and the first woman appointed as Chief Judge, Judith Kaye helped move our state forward on a wide variety of social and legal issues, including juvenile justice, rights for gay couples, capital punishment and creating specialized courts to focus on issues such as domestic violence, chemical addiction and mental health,” she said. “My thoughts are with her family and friends during this sad time, though I hope they take solace in knowing that Judge Kaye’s legacy will live on and her dedication to this state will help inspire generations of New Yorkers to serve this great state and the cause of justice.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan also praised Kaye’s tenure on the court and life.

“As the first woman to rise to the position of Chief Judge, she was a trailblazer for New York women who were seeking to establish a career for themselves in law or in the Courts,” Flanagan said. “In more than 15 years as Chief Judge, Judith Kaye cemented herself as a thoughtful jurist and dedicated public servant for New York.”

Judicial Nominating Commission Releases Recommendations

The state’s judicial nominating panel on Tuesday released a new slate of candidates for a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals, one of two nominations the state Senate is due to consider early next year.

The commission’s list of candidates for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to choose from includes former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, a Republican who was also considered for the top post at the Court of Appeals of chief judge.

Cuomo ultimately nominated Westchester District Attorney Jane DiFiore, who would replace outgoing Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The new list of seven recommendations are to replace Associate Judge Susan Read, who retired on Aug. 24.

Here’s the list:

-Michael J. Garcia, Esq., attorney in private practice (Kirkland & Ellis
LLP);
-Hon. Judith J. Gische, Associate Justice, Appellate Division, First
Department;
-Caitlin J. Halligan, Esq., attorney in private practice (Gibson, Dunn &
Crutcher LLP);
-Hon. Erin M. Peradotto, Associate Justice, Appellate Division, Fourth
Department;
-Benjamin E. Rosenberg, Esq., General Counsel, New York County
District Attorney’ s Office;
-Rowan D. Wilson, Esq., attorney in private practice (Cravath, Swaine
& Moore, LLP);
-Stephen P. Younger, Etq., attorney in private practice (Patterson
Belknapp Webb & Tyler LLP).

Lippman has urged Senate Republicans to take up the nominations as soon as possible, given the two vacancies on the bench and new term about to begin.

20151222100100.pdf by Nick Reisman

Trial Lawyers Back Pay Panel’s Hike For Judges

The state Trial Lawyers Association n on Tuesday backed the approval of a substantial pay increase for the state’s judiciary, calling the move “only fair” given it lines their salaries up with federal judges.

“Judges work hard every day to ensure that New Yorkers have access to justice,” said New York Trial Lawyers Association President Evan Goldberg. “It’s only fair that state judges should get paid as much as Federal judges. Moreover, a fairly compensated judiciary helps the state attract and retain the best jurists possible. We hope the Legislature will join the panel in making sure New York’s judges get fairly compensated.”

In a narrow vote on Monday, state Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive backed a pay increase for state Supreme Court judges from $174,000 to $193,000 a year starting on April 1.

State judges would have their pay eventually matched to federal district court judges with salaries that are expected to be around $207,000 starting in 2018.

The decision to increase judicial pay comes as the panel next year could consider salary increases for state lawmakers. Members of the Senate and Assembly have not seen their pay increase from $79,500 for more than 15 years.

A decision on increasing legislative pay is not expected until after Election Day in 2016.

Before the pay raise commission was formed, judicial and legislative salary increases were often packaged together.

Lippman Urges Senate To Return And Approve Successor

New York’s top judge on Tuesday in a radio interview urged the Republican-controlled Senate to return to Albany as quickly as possible in order to approve his successor, given the vacancies on the Court of Appeals.

“It’s very important the Senate come back as absolutely early that they can because it’s vital to the public,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “It is a critical and I would urge the Senate at the earliest possible time to come back and do its due diligence.”

Lippman praised his likely successor, Westchester County District Janet DiFiore, who will be the second woman to lead the court. A former chairwoman of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, she was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week to replace Lippman.

If confirmed by Senate, DiFiore, a former Republican-turned-Democrat, would join a majority female bench at the court.

“I have confidence that we’re really going to have a spectacular successor and I have the highest regard for her,” he said. “Clearly the court is sitting in the first two weeks in January. We’re only going to have five judges and you need four to have a binding decision.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in November told reporters a return to Albany for a special session in December is unlikely, despite the outstanding vacancies on the Court of Appeals. The first day of the legislative session for the Senate and Democratic-led Assembly is Jan. 6.

Lippman, who as chief judge urged an investment in legal programs for the poor, said more money is needed for indigent services.

“We need to continue to increase massively the funding for civil legal services,” he said. “Even with all of the funding we give to them, they still turn away more people than they accept.”

Meanwhile, more people are needed to work in the court system overall, Lippman said.

“We need the personnel in the courts,” he said. “We haven’t totally recovered from the big cut we had in our budget, five, six years ago. We need additional personnel to serve the public better.”

Lippman, the state’s chief judge since 2009, must retire at the end of the year due to the state court system’s mandatory retirement age — a provision he actively sought to change through a constitutional amendment, which voters rejected last year in a referendum.

Despite opposing the current retirement age policy, calling such a law “antiquated,” Lippman insisted in the interview that it’s time he move on.

“I think it’s time. I do think the retirement age is antiquated,” Lippman said. “It’s time for a change. I am very high on the governor’s designee for the new chief judge. I think she’ll make a great chief judge. I’ve left it all out on the floor, I’ve done everything I can do to promote equal justice.”