ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – New York’s high court is back to full strength after a ceremony Monday instituting a new chief judge, coupled with confirmation for the court’s newest associate judge.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo swore in Janet DiFiore as the 24th chief judge of the Court of Appeals at a ceremony in the court’s ornate main courtroom. The investiture occurred about an hour before the state Senate confirmed Michael Garcia as an associate judge.
The appointments filled two vacancies that had hobbled the seven-member court for about a month.
DiFiore, former Westchester County district attorney, succeeded former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who left Dec. 31 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in May.
Garcia, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, took the seat formerly held by Susan Phillips Read, who left the bench in the summer.
At the swearing-in, Cuomo lauded DiFiore as “the obvious and clear choice for this position.”
Voters first elected DiFiore as Westchester County DA in 2005, and she won re-election twice. DiFiore worked in private practice as well and as a county court judge and as a state supreme court justice for the criminal court system.
Cuomo noted that DiFiore has professional credentials and experience, plus the management savvy needed to oversee a court system with 19,000 employees and a $2 billion budget. New York’s chief judge leads both the high court and the overall court system.
“She has the leadership skills and the management credentials to streamline and manage that bureaucracy,” the governor said, according to a transcript of the ceremony.
Cuomo’s office later put out a statement congratulating Garcia on his confirmation by the Senate. “New York’s highest court has gained another strong, fair and highly skilled leader,” the statement said.
Garcia has been in private practice since 2008 after three years as U.S. attorney for the Manhattan-based Southern District, and a nearly decade as an assistant prosecutor with that office.
High-profile cases Garcia helped prosecute in Manhattan included the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombing of U.S. Embassies in East Africa.
The Albany Times Union reported that DiFiore was sworn in wearing the robe of the court’s first female chief judge, Judith Kaye, who died Jan. 7. DiFiore becomes the state’s second female chief judge.
Kaye spent 15 years as chief judge – the longest term anyone had served – before reaching mandatory retirement age in 2008.
Last year, she chaired the Commission on Judicial Nomination, which sent DiFiore and Garcia’s names to the governor, along with others, to fill the high court’s vacancies. Kaye had urged a speedy nominating process to avoid the court beginning its January session with only five judges.
When that occurred anyway, the court had to send at least one case back for reargument because it lacked the four judges needed for a decision.
Cuomo noted at the investiture that he will be one of only two governors in state history by year’s end to have appointed all of the Court of Appeals’ judges. The other was his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo’s sweep will occur when Judge Eugene Pigott retires Dec. 31 after turning 70 in September. Pigott joined the court 10 years ago.
Cuomo said he already was thinking about who the nominee should be, joking that he might offer his own name. “I am sure the Senate would quickly confirm to create the vacancy” in the governor’s office, he said, tongue firmly in cheek.
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