DiFiore Confirmed to N.Y.’s Highest Court

     ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – The New York state Senate confirmed Janet DiFiore on Thursday to serve as the chief judge on the state’s highest court.
     DiFiore’s endorsement comes a day after the state Senate Judiciary Committee supported her nomination to lead the New York Court of Appeals. Around the same time Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia for a spot on the same court.
     The seven-member court had been one judge short since the resignation of Associate Judge Susan Phillips Read last summer, then lost the chief judge to mandatory retirement in December.
     Garcia, now a partner in the Manhattan office of international law firm Kirkland & Ellis, served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for three years before he joined the firm in 2008. He earlier spent nearly a decade as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he was involved in a number of high-profile cases, including the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa.
     Garcia also worked as assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and as assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement.
     Garcia’s name was one seven sent to the governor last month to fill the court vacancy. He also had been nominated for the chief judge’s slot. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman retired Dec. 31, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in May.
     Earlier this month, Lippman joined the litigation and trial department of the international law firm Latham & Watkins in Manhattan.
     Cuomo praised Garcia as “a talented, experienced and skilled prosecutor” who will bring “the kind of broad, well-rounded perspective on the law that our state’s highest court requires.”
     Associate judges serve 14-year terms.
     If Garcia and DiFiore are confirmed, Cuomo will have picked six of the seven judges on the court. The remaining holdover is Eugene Pigott, who has been serving as acting chief judge since Lippman’s retirement.
     Pigott, nominated to the court by former Gov. George Pataki in 2006, turns 70 in September and will have to retire at year’s end.
     Chief judge nominee DiFiore currently serves as Westchester County district attorney. First elected to the post in 2005, she then was re-elected twice. DiFiore also has worked in private practice and as a county court judge and a state Supreme Court justice.
     If confirmed by the Senate, DiFiore will be only the second female chief judge in the court’s history.
     The court’s first, Judith Kaye, died Jan. 7. She spent 15 years as chief judge – the longest term anyone had served – before reaching mandatory retirement age in 2008. She then joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Manhattan.
     Before her death, Kaye chaired the Commission on Judicial Nomination, which chooses judges to sit on the Court of Appeals. The commission sent DiFiore and Garcia’s names to the governor along with lists of other potential picks.
     When the list of chief judge nominees was proffered in October, Kaye urged a speedy turnaround, noting that with Lippman’s retirement and the Read vacancy, the Court of Appeals would begin its January session with only five judges.
     But when Cuomo chose DiFiore for the post Dec. 1, starting the clock for action within 30 days, the Times Union indicated Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan saw no reason to call his house back to Albany before the start of the Legislative session Jan. 6.
     While the high court held oral arguments as planned during the past two weeks, it has issued few decisions since the new year began.
     Last week, the judges said they sent one case back for reargument “during a future session of this court,” which indicated they could not muster the four judges needed for a decision.
     

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