(CN) — Judge Shirley Troutman, the daughter of parents who grew up in the segregated South but moved their family north for a better life, said she was overwhelmed on learning Wednesday that New York Governor Kathy Hochul had nominated her to sit on the New York Court of Appeals.
“To think that I will soon stand before the New York Senate to be confirmed as a member and associate judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, our highest court, is certainly, simply put, surreal to me,” Troutman said.
Hochul, New York’s first female governor, told Troutman that she would be her first appointment to the Court of Appeals shortly before the press release announcing the decision was issued this morning, according to the judge.
If confirmed, Troutman would be the second Black woman to sit on the state’s highest court.
Her nomination comes as the state’s top court faced several vacancies this year. In March, Judge Paul Feinman, the first openly gay judge to sit on that bench, abruptly resigned due to illness and then died days later. In June, Judge Leslie Stein stepped down and was replaced by Judge Madeline Singas.
Hochul said in a statement that Troutman’s nomination represented Hochul’s effort to fill leadership positions across the state with a diverse slate of individuals.
Troutman, Hochul said, “has a brilliant legal mind, a fair-minded judicial philosophy, sterling qualifications, and a commitment to equal justice that guides her approach from the bench.”
The nomination of Troutman is to fill the seat of Associate Judge Eugene Fahey, who will leave the bench at the end of the year due to a requirement that judges retire when they turn 70. He had worked on the seven-member bench since 2015.
Troutman said it was “an honor to follow in the footsteps” of Fahey, whom she described as a mentor and friend.
In mid-October, the Commission on Judicial Nomination released the list of seven candidates it recommended to fill Fahey’s seat after it vetted the applications of 34 individuals.
The first Black woman to sit on New York’s highest court was Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, who died in 2017.
Currently, Troutman sits on the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, a position to which she was nominated in 2016 by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. It’s a court she said has broader jurisdiction, such as interest of justice, than the Court of Appeals.
Before becoming a judge, Troutman worked as an assistant district attorney and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York.
Outside the courthouse, Troutman said she enjoys reading (historical books, in particular), walking and spending time with her family. She has taught trial technique at the University of New York at Buffalo as an adjunct professor.
She also mentors as co-chair of the Franklin Williams Commission and president of the National Association of Women Judges, New York Chapter, “to create a pipeline” and encourage underrepresented individuals to pursue legal careers and to answer any qualms young people may have in pursuing for those position.
“I really enjoy it because it’s an opportunity to help shape the future of our legal profession,” Troutman said.
Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was thrilled to see a fellow member of Delta Sigma Theta, a historically Black sorority, receive the nomination.
Troutman, Dukes said, “has the lived experience to ensure she treats all who come before her with compassion, dignity and respect.”
Timoty Donaher, public defender for Monroe County whose county seat is Rochester, said Troutman had “an excellent judicial demeanor” while sitting on the Appellate Division and described her as a judge who was engaged and prepared while sitting on the bench.
“She is sensitive to racial justice issues, and how those issues often negatively intersect with the criminal justice system,” Donaher said in a statement.
Once the Senate receives the governor’s nomination, it has 30 days to decide whether it will confirm the pick.
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