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Westchester’s DiFiore Tapped as Chief for Top N.Y. Court

(CN) - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore on Tuesday to serve as chief judge of state's highest court.

The last and only other female chief judge in New York state history, Judith Kaye, retired in 2008. Coincidentally, it was Cuomo's father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, who appointed Kaye, first to the Court of Appeals in 1983 and then as chief judge a decade later.

DiFiore still faces a confirmation hearing by the New York Senate.

Cuomo's office praised DiFiore's 10 years of experience as a district attorney, her past work as a judge, and her "extensive background in judicial and legal reform."

"Over the course of her tenure as district attorney, she has targeted a broad array of crimes involving everything from gang-related violence to identity theft and environmental pollution," according to a statement from the governor's office. "She also has considerable experience with domestic violence issues, and has spearheaded efforts to improve the investigation and handling of child abuse cases. Early in her first term, DiFiore also designed and launched the Westchester Intelligence Center, which helps coordinate resources and information sharing among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies."

The district attorney's predecessor, Jeanine Pirro, went on to become a Fox News television personality.

DiFiore's prior court posts included a three-year turn as a Westchester County Court judge, and two years as a justice for the Ninth Judicial District of New York State Criminal Courts.

It was in the latter position that DiFiore achieved "the first elimination of all backlogged cases in any of the state's judicial districts," Cuomo's office said.

"Furthermore, during her time on the bench DiFiore was directly involved in the creation of Mental Health and Sex Offenders Courts, as well as the implementation of the newly established Domestic Violence and Drug Treatment Courts," the statement continues.

As co-chair of the New York State Justice Task Force since 2009, DiFiore has led investigations into wrongful-conviction cases and worked on reforms.

Jonathan Lippman, the current chief of the New York Court of Appeals who DiFiore will replace, appointed the DA to this position.

DiFiore once headed the New York State District Attorneys Association and the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

She also served on the New York State Commission on Youth, Safety and Justice, which recommended both statutory and administrative reforms pertaining to the prosecution and imprisonment of youthful offenders.

With a bachelor's degree from Long Island University's C.W. Post College, DiFiore also graduated from St. John's University School of Law.

Cuomo previously appointed Judges Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Jenny Rivera, Leslie Stein and Eugene Fahey to the New York Court of Appeals.

Chief Judge Lippman is set to retire at the end of this year, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in May.

New York's next legislative session begins Jan. 4.

Former Chief Judge Kaye chairs the Commission on Judicial Nomination, which supplied Gov. Cuomo with a list of seven nominees that included DiFiore back in October.

Kaye had noted that the commission's next task is filling an associate judge vacancy on the Court of Appeals, following the resignation of Susan Read over the summer.

Cuomo is expected to be given a list of candidates for this vacancy by Dec. 22.

The Court of Appeals spent several months earlier this year with just five judges, which resulted in at least two cases being sent back for reargument when the needed four judges could not be mustered for a decision.

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