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Cuomo faces December 1 deadline to choose a new chief judge

Posted by Karen DeWitt on

Governor Cuomo is due to announce his choice for the state’s next chief judge on December 1st .

The list of nominees that Cuomo will choose from to lead the state’s highest court includes potentially the first African American chief judge of the Court of Appeals, as well as a former US Attorney who could be the state’s first Hispanic chief judge.

But the favorite is the Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who would be only the second  woman to lead the court.

Di Fiore is an ally of Cuomo. She was the first chair of  the state ethics commission, when it was created by the governor and the legislature in 2011. And she is well regarded as a DA, noted for reviving cases where there were questions about convictions, and using DNA evidence to find the actual culprits.  

Vince Bonventre is a court expert and Albany Law School professor. Speaking when the nominees were made public in October, Bonventre said  while DiFiore has an accomplished record and would be an excellent pick, all of the choices would be up to the job, which also includes managing the entire state court system. 

“You want someone who looks like that person could handle being the chief executive of New York’s pretty huge, mammoth judicial branch,” Bonventre said. 

Whoever is chosen, they will replace the current Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, who was picked by former Governor David Paterson. Lippman is forced to retire at the age of 70, under New York State law. In a recent interview with the statewide  public television show New York Now,  Lippman criticized that law, calling the age 70 limit the “constitutional age of senility” .

“It’s ridiculous in the year 2015,” said Lippman, who said the rule was made in 1846, when the average life expectancy was 40.

State lawmakers attempted to change the state’s constitution to let judges stay on the bench longer, but it was voted down in 2013.

The Chief Judge says ultimately, though , he’s ok with leaving.

“There’s a time for change,” Lippmann said. “Get new blood.”

Lippman has been an advocate for greater legal services for the poor. He’s also made it easier for low income New Yorkers to post bail.

Even if Governor Cuomo meets the December 1 deadline to choose a nominee, it’s unlikely that the State Senate will honor its 30 day timetable to vote on the choice. Senate Leader John Flanagan, at the Capitol in early November for meeting with his Republican members, said he does not see the Senate coming back in December to ratify the governor’s choice.

“I don’t see any reason why we would do that,” Flanagan said.

If the Senate does not act until into the New Year, that means the Court of Appeals will begin meeting January 4th with two judges missing. Judge Susan Read retired early, and the governor won’t be announcing his choice to replace Read until later in December. 

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