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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cuomo Given Nominee List for NY’s Top Court

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - A state panel offered seven nominees Thursday to fill the upcoming vacancy of chief judge on New York's highest court.

Among them are a sitting district attorney, five attorneys in private practice and the former chief administrative judge of New York's court system.

The names now go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who by law must choose a new chief judge for the Court of Appeals from among the nominees. He must make his pick by Dec. 1, and then send the name to the state Senate for action within 30 days.

New York's next legislative session begins Jan. 4.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman leaves on Dec. 31 after having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in May.

The Commission on Judicial Nomination is responsible for choosing judges to sit on New York's high court, selecting candidates " who reflect the diversity of New York's citizenry and are among the state's most highly qualified and accomplished judges, practicing lawyers and legal scholars," according to the panel's website.

The seven chief-judge nominees, drawn from 16 called in for interviews, were culled from a field 33 applicants, the panel said in a prepared statement.

Emphasizing the diversity of the candidate pool, the panel said that the 16 interviewed included eight women and five ethnic minorities. It does not appear that any of the female nominees are also ethnic minorities.

Judith Kaye, a former chief judge who chairs the commission, said she appreciated "the extraordinary quality and diverse backgrounds of our applicants."

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore's is the most recognizable name on the list of nominees. She was first elected to the post in 2005, replacing the Republican Jeanine Pirro who went on to become a Fox News television personality.

With two re-elections under belt, DiFiore also worked in private practice and as a County Court judge and a state Supreme Court justice.

She is joined on the list of nominees by A. Gail Prudenti, executive director of the Center for Families, Children and the Law at Hofstra University's Maurice A. Dean Law School.

In July, Prudenti stepped down as chief administrative judge of the court system. Previously, she was a state Supreme Court justice, Surrogate's Court judge and presiding justice of the Appellate Division's Second Department in Brooklyn.

Carey Dunne is a partner in the New York City law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. One of the two white men to make the list, Dunne chaired the Special Commission on the Future of New York State Courts in 2006, and was a member of the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services between 2004 and 06.

Michael Garcia is a partner in the New York City law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He served from 2003 to 2005 as an assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York before joining Kirkland & Ellis in 2008.

Caitlin Halligan is a partner in the New York City law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. She spent a decade in the state Attorney General's Office, becoming solicitor general in 2001, and served between 2009 and 2013 as general counsel to the New York City District Attorney's Office.

Rowan Wilson, a partner in the New York City law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, is the only black nominee. He was nominated three times by the commission to become an associate judge on the Court of Appeals.

The seventh nominee is Stephen Younger, a partner in the New York City law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. He also was previously nominated for associate judge on the Court of Appeals.

In the letter to Gov. Cuomo that proffered the nominees, Commission chair Kaye pointed out that her panel now must turn to filling an associate judge vacancy on the Court of Appeals, following the resignation of Susan Read over the summer.

Kaye indicated the panel plans to have a slate of candidates for that vacancy to the governor by Dec. 22.

She noted, though, that with Lippman's retirement and the Read vacancy, the Court of Appeals would begin its January session with only a five-judge panel.

The court spent several months earlier this year with just five judges, which resulted in at least two cases being sent back for reargument when the needed four judges could not be mustered for a decision.

Kaye's letter cited the importance of making a timely appointment for chief judge.

"We underscore the importance of compliance with these mandates, so that the successor chief judge is able timely to assume the vital leadership responsibilities of the court and the Third Branch of government as close as possible to Jan. 1, 2016," she wrote.

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