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Chief Judge Rowan Wilson Makes History in New York Courts

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Dan Clark: I'm running out of ways to tell you this news, so I'm just going to give it to you straight. As of Friday morning, New York still doesn't have a state budget… three weeks after the deadline. Things seemed closer, at least than they have been in the past few weeks.
At the start of the week, there were rumors about a deal on changes to bail reform, but just a day later, we were told those rumors were false. By Wednesday, the door to a full state budget deal before next week was closed. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said this.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins: You know, I hope that we are able to just, get to a point where we, I can come in and tell you that it is the end of the end very, very soon.

Reporter: This week?

ASC: No, unfortunately it's not this week.

DC: Lawmakers ended up passing an extender through Monday, but the majority leader did have a few updates for us. She said they were very close to a deal on bail and that any housing plan passed in the budget would have to include new protections for tenants, which Governor Hochul has been resistant to. Stewart-Cousins again had this to say.

ASC: I guess this is a national problem, quite honestly, but I don't think that we can talk about this building without talking about affordability. I want you all, I want my neighbors, my children to be able to afford to live here, and I think we have to figure out a way to do that.

DC: More on the budget in just a few minutes, but first, some news on New York's top court. 
Rowan Wilson was confirmed this week by the state Senate to be New York's new Chief Judge. He is the first person of color ever to serve in that role, and as we told you, that job has two parts. For one, the Chief Judge manages the entire judicial branch of state government. That's all the way from your local town and village courts up to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, and that is the other job of the Chief Judge. They lead and manage the Court of Appeals. That has to do with things like what kinds of cases the court hears and how many are heard at any given time.
In the past seven or so years, the court has heard far fewer cases than they used to. That was the purview of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but his confirmation hearing, Wilson said under him that would change.

Rowan Wilson: The court's role and legitimacy is particularly important now in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court's retreat from several of its seminal decisions. In that environment, the actions of state governments, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, take on greater importance. Our court is now presented with an opportunity to reestablish itself as the clear leader among its peers.

DC: Just a little background on Wilson. He's a Harvard grad who practiced law for 30 years at one of New York's biggest law firms. That was until six years ago when he was first nominated and confirmed to the Court of Appeals. He's considered to be a relatively liberal judge who often sides with criminal defendants over prosecutors and writes decisions in a way that the public can easily understand. It's that experience and style that Democrats liked. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris said this about Wilson.

Mike Gianaris: If you read his decisions, you see an understanding not just of the case before him, but of what it means in the context of the broader community, and that is what the Court of Appeals has historically been in New York, a place where other states and indeed the federal government and the federal judiciary can look for guidance for direction.

DC: Support for Wilson was split along party lines. Republicans took issue with the decision he wrote in March that overturned a rape conviction and they said that ruling and its favor toward defendants should qualify him as a “activist judge.” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said this.

Rob Ortt: Judge Wilson, we have to presume or I’ll presume is a tip of the cap to the radical left. People like Senator Hoylman-Sigal, people like Senator Gianaris, an activist judge, and I think fits their ideal of not only a good chief judge, but an ideal for the court as a whole.

DC: I want to lay out the full context of that case, just so you know, what happened. It started in 2009 when a woman in St. Lawrence County was raped. She reported the rape that same day, but it wasn't until almost four years later that prosecutors in St. Lawrence County collected the DNA of the man who raped her and finally charged him with a crime.
It was that delay that caused the conviction to be thrown out on grounds of due process. Judge Wilson defended that decision at his confirmation hearing.

RW: It's not as if the prosecutor's office came and said, look, we had some other things that made us busy, we had two people who were out on maternity leave, they came and said, we have no explanation for this lengthy delay. So, in that circumstance, I think then about what the alternative is, it's easier to say that's okay. What message does that then send to victims of rape or victims of crime generally anywhere?
DC: That was just round one of this week's judicial confirmations. Since Wilson was chosen for Chief Judge his old seat on the court was left open and the Senate confirmed Caitlin Halligan again this week to fill that spot. She's the state's former solicitor general who's had a huge career in the private sector and was once up for a federal judgeship. Even a handful of Republicans crossed party lines to support her.

Caitlin Halligan: I am very grateful and honored. Thank you.

DC: Democrats and Governor Hochul could be facing some legal trouble over Halligan nomination.

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New York NOWChief Judge Rowan Wilson Makes History in New York Courts

New York State is still without a budget weeks after the deadline. Bail reform remains a sticking point, and there's disagreement over new tenant protections. Meanwhile, Rowan Wilson becomes the first person of color to serve as NY's Chief Judge. Senate confirmation was split along partisan lines due to the judge's record on criminal cases. However, Wilson is determined to re-establish the court's leadership role by addressing the retreat of US Supreme Court decisions.