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New Yorkers may have to wait a bit longer for a new chief judge

March 2, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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New York State may not have a new chief judge until later this spring as Gov. Kathy Hochul is likely to delay requesting the state Senate to consider another nominee until the budget is completed in April.

Hochul recently spoke about the matter after the Senate rejected her first choice for the job, Hon. Hector LaSalle. The Governor has asked the state’s judicial nominating commission to suggest a new list of potential nominees, but she will postpone the process until later in the spring due to the state budget due April 1.

Several Democratic senators had warned Hochul earlier when former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore resigned last summer that they wanted a new chief judge who would steer the state’s highest court back to more liberal values and decisions. Hochul had not heeded the senators’ concerns and selected LaSalle as her nominee, which led to his rejection by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Despite this, the Governor said she will not do anything differently this time around and will choose the person she thinks will be the best individual to lead an extraordinary court. Hochul is also looking for a nominee with management experience because the job involves running the $3 billion state court system, which has not fully recovered from pandemic-related lockdowns.

LaSalle had initially been rejected by a 10-9 vote by the State Senate’s judiciary committee. Eventually, on Feb. 15, LaSalle was put up by a full Senate vote and lost 39-20, the first time the State Senate rejected a governor’s pick for chief judge.

A judge ruled on Feb. 21 that all senators must vote on a governor’s nominee for the court, in accordance with the state’s constitution which requires the “advice and consent of the Senate” for court nominees. This comes after a lawsuit was filed by the Republicans to force a full Senate vote.

Justice Anthony Cannataro has served as acting chief judge since August when he replaced DiFiore, who stepped down six years into a 14 year term. Cannataro was nominated by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and has been on the Court of Appeals since June 2021.

Cannataro gave the first in-person “State of Our Courts” address since the COVID pandemic started in Albany on Tuesday. He will remain in charge of the State courts in an interim capacity until a new chief judge is nominated by Hochul and confirmed by the full State Senate.

In the meantime, the Court of Appeals continues to operate with six judges, not seven, since DiFiore resigned.

If the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, doesn’t have a quorum of seven judges available to hear a case, there are options available to ensure a decision is made. One such option is to wait until there are seven judges available to hear the case. However, if that’s not possible, the court can summon a judge from the appellate division or state supreme court to cast a deciding vote. This helps ensure that the court can continue to function and make decisions even if all of its judges are not present.

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