ALBANY — Gov. Hochul is likely considering nominating one of the Court of Appeals’ sitting justices to be the next chief judge of the state’s highest court.
A bill introduced by the governor, whose first pick to lead the state’s sprawling court system was rejected by Senate Democrat last month, would speed up the process of nominating a new judge to the Court of Appeals should Hochul choose to elevate a current associate judge to chief judge.
The bill comes days after the Commission on Judicial Nominations released a new shortlist of seven candidates for the chief judge position, including three associate judges already serving on the Court of Appeals.
“Amending this law will prevent the Court of Appeals from unnecessarily operating for an extended period of time without a full bench, which results in split decisions and delays in the important work of the court,” according to the bill.
If approved by the Legislature, Hochul would be able to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court from the remaining candidates on the current list should she nominate one of the sitting justices to become chief judge.
Justice Anthony Cannataro, the acting chief judge of the Court of Appeals, as well as two other judges currently serving on the bench, Justice Shirley Troutman and Justice Rowan Wilson, are among the candidates on the list released last week.
The seven-member Court of Appeals has been one judge short since the abrupt resignation of former chief judge Janet DiFiore last summer.
The governor’s fellow Dems shot down her initial nominee for the role, Justice Hector LaSalle, in an unprecedented rejection last month over concerns about his background, questions about constitutional duty and a Republican lawsuit over the process.
LaSalle, who would have been the first Latino to lead the state’s court system, drew opposition from progressive lawmakers as well as labor unions and other groups who viewed him as too conservative.
The program bill, introduced in both the Senate and Assembly by the chambers’ respective judiciary chairmen, drew swift condemnation from LaSalle supporters upset that there are no Latinos among the candidates on the shortlist.
“The decision to include the confirmation of a chief judge and the selection of associate judges within the budget negotiations is flat-out wrong,” said former assemblyman Roberto Ramirez, one of the vocal leaders of the Latinos for LaSalle movement. “It ignores the basic tenet of the judiciary as an independent and equal branch of government.
“Moreover, it should be patently obvious to any observer that this targeted effort ensures no Latinos are appointed to the Court of Appeals. This is the death knell of 50 years of merit selection in New York,” he added.
Associate justice Jenny Rivera is currently the only Latina judge serving on the Court of Appeals.