Seven Make Short List for Open Seat on NY’s Highest Court

(CN) – With the New York Senate set to adjourn soon for the summer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo collected recommendations Thursday to fill the Court of Appeals seat left open by the sudden April death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.

“The commission was mindful of the extraordinary circumstance presented by Judge Abdus-Salaam’s passing, and the news to ensure her vacancy was filled swiftly,” E. Leo Milonas, interim chair of the New York Commission on Judicial Nominations, wrote in a letter to Cuomo. “At the same time, the commission was obliged to, and did, take many steps to seek out the largest number of well-qualified applicants, consistent with the commission’s mandate to ‘conduct broad outreach to encourage wide participation in the application process.’”

Abdus-Salaam, 65, the first black woman to sit on New York’s highest court, was found dead in the Hudson River on April 12. Her death was ruled a suicide. 

Cuomo called on the commission to help him fill the court vacancy quickly so the state Senate could confirm the appointment before it adjourns later this month.

Of the 40 candidates who submitted applications to the commission, 16 received an in-person interview.

The commission said 19 submissions came from first-time applicants, while 21 of the applicants had previously submitted applications for at least one prior vacancy. The applicants included 17 women, and 13 candidates with “diverse backgrounds.”

Milonas said the commission applicants represented an impressive and highly qualified pool of candidates.

“The commission sought by its investigations and interviews to address each candidate’s character, temperament, professional aptitude, experience, qualifications and fitness for office,” Milonas said in a statement.

He added: “That so many highly qualified candidates were interested in the current vacancy amply demonstrates the remarkable strength and depth of New York’s legal community.”

The seven candidates whose names were forwarded on to the governor include one attorney in private practice and one federal bankruptcy judge. Eric Corngold is partner at Friedman, Kaplan, Seiler and Adelman, and Mary Kay Vyskocil, is a U.S. bankruptcy judge with the Southern District of New York.

The other five candidates are all associate justices with the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. Four of these sit on the First Judicial Department in Manhattan. They are Associate Justices Paul Feinman, Judith Gische, Rosalyn Richter and Troy Karen Webber.

The final candidate, Gerald Whalen, is a presiding justice with the Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester.

The next scheduled vacancy on the Court of Appeals will occur on Jan. 1, 2022, when Associate Judge Eugene Fahey reaches the mandatory retirement age.

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