Governor Hochul is exploring the possibility of selecting a new chief judge, and is calling for a change in the law to expedite the process

It appears that Governor Hochul is contemplating the possibility of selecting a sitting justice from the Court of Appeals as the next chief judge of New York State’s highest court.

In light of Senate Democrats rejecting her first choice to lead the state’s extensive court system last month, the governor has proposed a bill to hasten the process of nominating a new judge to the Court of Appeals, in the event that she decides to promote an existing associate judge to the position of chief judge.

Recently, the Commission on Judicial Nominations published a fresh list of seven potential candidates for the chief judge role, with three of them being associate judges who are presently serving on the Court of Appeals. This bill was introduced a few days following the release of that list.

“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.

Assuming that the Legislature greenlights the proposal, Governor Hochul would be authorized to select a candidate from the remaining individuals on the present list to fill any vacancy that arises on the state’s top court, if she decides to put forth one of the existing justices for the role of chief judge.

Among the individuals on the recently unveiled list of candidates are Justice Anthony Cannataro, who is serving as the interim chief judge of the Court of Appeals, as well as two other sitting judges, Justice Shirley Troutman and Justice Rowan Wilson.

Since the unexpected resignation of former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore last year, the seven-member Court of Appeals has been missing one judge.

Governor Hochul’s initial nominee for the position, Justice Hector LaSalle, was turned down by her fellow Democrats last month. Their decision, which was an unprecedented move, was motivated by concerns regarding LaSalle’s background, questions about his constitutional duty, and a Republican lawsuit over the nomination process.

Progressive lawmakers, labor unions, and other groups opposed Justice Hector LaSalle’s nomination for chief judge due to his perceived conservatism, despite the fact that he would have been the first Latino to lead the state’s court system.

The program bill was introduced by the judiciary chairmen of both the Senate and Assembly, and it was met with criticism from LaSalle supporters who were disappointed that none of the candidates on the new shortlist are Latino.

“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.