First Openly Gay Judge Nominated to Top NY Court

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Paul Feinman, an associate appellate judge tapped Thursday for a vacancy on New York’s highest court, will be the first openly gay person to hold the post.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked Feinman from a list of seven candidates forwarded to him June 1 by the state Commission on Judicial Nomination, which is charged with evaluating and recommending candidates for the New York Court of Appeals.

Cuomo’s pick now goes to the state Senate for confirmation, although the clock is running down on the current session of the Legislature, which is due to end next week amid the usual press of last-minute bills and nominations.

If confirmed, Feinman would fill the vacancy left by the unexpected death of Associate Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, whose body was found in the Hudson River off Manhattan in April. She was the first black woman to serve on the high court.

The New York Police Department closed its investigation into Abdus-Salaam’s death in May, calling it a likely suicide.

Feinman serves as an associate justice in Manhattan on a midlevel state appeals court, the First Department Appellate Division of New York Supreme Court.

He began his judicial career in 1996 with election to the Civil Court of the City of New York in lower Manhattan. Feinman sat in both the Criminal Court and the Civil Court in New York County before being named an acting state Supreme Court justice in Manhattan in 2004. He was elected to the court in 2007.

Cuomo appointed him to the Appellate Division in 2012.

Feinman received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1985. He began his legal career with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County on Long Island.

Cuomo, in announcing his decision to forward Feinman’s name to the Senate, called him “a talented jurist who has dedicated his career to public service and standing up for a fairer and more just New York.”

The governor’s news release noted that Feinman would be the first openly gay person to serve on the high court if confirmed, a point not lost on Albany Law School Professor Vincent Bonventre, author of the New York Court Watcher blog.

Writing after the list of seven candidates was released, Bonventre praised the diversity of the nominees. He suggested Cuomo could make history by naming a gay jurist, since two of the seven candidates were openly gay.

“In this type of an enterprise – i.e., appellate decision-making on a court of last resort – diversity is a huge plus,” Bonventre wrote. “Different backgrounds, schools, careers, experiences, perspectives, deeply held beliefs and values all come into play and all contribute mightily to a wiser, more knowledgeable and insightful result.”

The Court of Appeals has seven judges who serve 14-year terms: a presiding judge and six associate judges.

The chief judge is paid $220,000 annually, according the website See Through NY, a project of The Empire Center, an Albany think tank that tracks state salaries. Associate justices are paid $213,000.

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