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Protestors rally outside Court of Appeals for a more liberal chief judge

"We Don’t Want Another Prosecutor"

November 4, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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A group of protestors held a rally outside of the Court of Appeals in Albany on Thursday as they attacked the court’s recent right-wing decisions and called upon the next chief judge of the court to be more socially conscious.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has served in the role since 2016, but resigned three years early this past summer and will be replaced by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

While New York State has taken a political step towards the left in recent years, the Court of Appeals has come under attack for being too conservative by many. The former Chief Judge DiFiore, the current acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro, Hon. Michael Garcia, and Hon. Madeline Singas have formed a four-person bloc that has voted together in 96 of 98 decisions published in the court’s last term.

“Under our last Chief Judge, our state’s highest court — the one we need to protect our rights when the U.S. Supreme Court is gutting those rights — has been on the side of the powerful and against all the rest of us,” said Marvin Mayfield, director at the Center for Community Alternatives. “We need a Chief Judge who has a demonstrated commitment to preserving, protecting, and advancing the civil and social rights of all New Yorkers, who shares New Yorkers’ values and brings professional diversity to the Court.”

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Former New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File

The main discussion point at the rally was the need for a chief judge who isn’t a former prosecutor, like four of the past seven have been. Only a small percentage of all Court of Appeals judges over the last 50 years have come from a legal services or public defense background and of the current judges none have worked in public defense, housing court, immigration court, or handled civil rights cases.

“This Chief Judge vacancy, at this moment, is a tremendous opportunity for New York,” said Peter Martin, director at the Center for Community Alternatives. “Former Governor Cuomo packed the Court of Appeals with former prosecutors, and its decisions have reflected that. In recent years, the Court has repeatedly changed state law to favor the powerful—the government, corporations, landlords, and more—at the expense of all other New Yorkers.

People at the rally explained that they feel like the court has slowed down the docket, and releases opinions that are often too short. Critics have also explained that the court has expanded police power and favored powerful interests. In the case of Aybar v. Aybar, the court held that Ford and Goodyear could not be sued in New York despite the fact that they were being sued over a car and tires that were both sold in the State, an example, critics explained, of just one ruling in favor of powerful interests over those of everyday New Yorkers.

The Court of Appeals is New York’s top court and it is the final arbiter of disputes related to state laws. The court’s chief judge is charged with administering and managing the court, has policy-setting powers over the system, and controls the $3 billion state judiciary budget. They can also reassign judges across the court system and helps to determine the requirements to become a lawyer in the State.

Currently, the Commission on Judicial Nomination is reviewing applicants for the next chief judge of the State. It will narrow its list to seven candidates by November 25 and Gov. Hochul will make a choice from that list.

Advocates at Thursday’s rally explained that they’re waiting on the list of seven candidates to be published before they publicly back a judge for the position of chief judge.

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