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First Openly Gay Judge Tapped to Lead NY Appeals Court

Succeeding the first female presiding justice of the same bench, the woman appointed Monday to lead an upstate New York appeals court marks the first openly gay judge to hold the title in state history.

(CN) - Succeeding the first female presiding justice of the same bench, the woman appointed Monday to lead an upstate New York appeals court marks the first openly gay judge to hold the title in state history.

Justice Elizabeth Garry, 55, has been with the Third Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division since 2009.

Based in Albany, the Third Department hears appeals from 28 counties in eastern and central New York.

“The precedent of this court has been my guide throughout my entire legal career,” Garry said in a statement. “I will always work hard and do my very best to bring its great traditions forward.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped Garry to replace Presiding Justice Karen Peters, who stepped down in December after reaching the mandatory retirement age earlier in the year. Peters, 70, was the first woman to ever lead the Third Department.

Bob Mayberger, clerk of the court in the Third Department, said Garry had earned the honor.

“She is an eminently qualified jurist who has been here and worked hard and worked her way up,” Mayberger said, adding that Garry is "universally respected."

In addition to announcing Garry’s promotion, Cuomo on Monday named Justice Alan Scheinkman, 67, to lead the Brooklyn-based Second Judicial Department.

The Third Department is geographically larger, covering nearly half the state, but the Second Department hears appeals from parts of New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.

"I am honored to appoint these judges to their new roles where they will continue to uphold principles of law and fairness to move New York forward,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Presiding justice duties include acting as their court’s chief administrator, overseeing the Committee on Professional Standards, the Committee on Character and Fitness, the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and the Office of Attorneys for Children.

Garry is a graduate of Alfred University in western New York and Albany Law School. During her 11 years in private practice, Garry was elected to two terms as a town justice in Berlin, New York. In 2006, she was elected as a judge on the Sixth Judicial District Court in Binghamton.

Presiding Justice Scheinkman meanwhile was in private practice for more than 20 years and also served as an associate professor at St. John’s University School of Law. He was elected in 2006 as a justice of the Ninth Judicial District in Westchester County.

Along with Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the New York Court of Appeals, the presiding judges of New York’s four intermediate appeals court serve on the Administrative Board of the Courts, which shapes court policy in New York state.

Cases from Manhattan and the Bronx go exclusively to the First Judicial Department, which is led by Presiding Justice Rolando Acosta. Appeals from the farthest reaches of New York state go the Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester, which is led by Presiding Justice Gerald Whalen.

For the last year, Justice Garry has co-chaired a commission created by Chief Judge DiFiore to work on LGBT issues in the justice system and legal profession.” Justice Marcy Kahn of the First Judicial Department is the other chair of this commission.

Alicia Ouellette, president and dean of Albany Law School, touted Garry’s many on-campus appearances.

The alumna gave the keynote address at the school’s first LGBT Law Day in 2015 and she has joined panel discussions on the state of LGBT rights and running for elected office as a member of the LGBTQ community.

Garry also judged a recent student moot court competition.

 “The entire Albany Law School community is so proud of Judge Garry,” Ouellette said in an email. “She will make an outstanding presiding justice. She has always been a great friend to the law school. She mentors our students and often stays engaged with her mentees long after they graduate law school. … She is a role model for all of us.”

Representatives for the governor’s office have not returned requests for comment.

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