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Commission makes COA recommendations

Eugene M. Fahey

Eugene M. Fahey

State Supreme Court Justice Eugene M. Fahey, who sits on the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, is among seven candidates being recommended to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for selection to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state’s highest court.

Justice Fahey is the only candidate from the Fourth Department. Also on the list, sent to the governor Wednesday, is Senior Associate Judge Victoria A. Graffeo who currently holds the seat. Her 14-year term expires in November.

According to Judge Judith S. Kaye, chair of the state Commission on Judicial Nomination, 32 people applied. Half were selected for interviews, which were conducted within the last two weeks. Of the 32 applicants, 25 percent were women and 15 percent were ethnic minorities. Of the 16 interviewed, seven were women and three were ethnic minorities.

“I am gratified at the extraordinary quality and diverse backgrounds of our applicants,” Judge Kaye said. “That so many exceptional candidates were motivated to apply demonstrates the remarkable strength and depth of the legal profession in the state of New York.”

Victoria Graffeo

Victoria Graffeo

Judge Graffeo, of Guilderland, Albany County, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2000 by then-Gov. George E. Pataki and confirmed on Nov. 29 of that year. Originally from Rockville Centre in Nassau County, she received her juris doctor from Albany Law School of Union University in 1977 and went into private practice until 1982 when she entered government service as assistant counsel to the state Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.

She served in the state Legislature as counsel to Assembly Minority Leader Pro Tempore Kemp Hannon from 1984 through 1988 and as chief counsel to Assembly Minority Leader Clarence D. Rappleyea Jr., 1989-1994. Judge Graffeo also served as a state solicitor general from Jan. 1, 1995 until being appointed in September 1996 to fill a vacancy in the state Supreme Court, Third Judicial District. She was elected that November to a full term as justice of the Supreme Court and in April 1998, became an associate justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department.

Justice Fahey, of Buffalo, earned his law degree in 1984 from SUNY Buffalo Law School. He previously received his undergraduate degree, cum laude, from SUNY Buffalo where he also earned a master’s in European history in 1998.

Justice Fahey worked in private practice from 1985 through 1993. From 1995 to 1996, he served as a Buffalo City Court judge and from 1997 to 2006 as a Supreme Court justice in the Eighth Judicial District, assigned to the Commercial Division during 2005 and 2006. He was appointed to the Appellate Division in 2006.

Judith Kaye

Judith Kaye

In addition, Justice Fahey served as a member of the Buffalo Common Council, 1978-83 and 1988-94. He has been involved in Western New York community organizations including Deaf Adult Services of Western New York Inc., Buffalo Neighborhood Housing Services and Fillmore-Leroy Area Residents Inc.

Other candidates are:

• Attorney Daniel S. Alter, general counsel, state Department of Financial Services;

• Attorney Preeta D. Bansal, visiting scholar from Harvard Law School and senior legal and policy advisor at MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;

• Justice Leslie E. Stein, Appellate Division, Third Department;

• Attorney Maria T. Vullo at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, New York City office; and

• Attorney Rowan D. Wilson, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, New York City.

Interviews were conducted Aug. 25 and Sept. 2. All finalists were found to be well qualified for an associate judge position, based on character, temperament, professional aptitude, experience, qualifications and fitness for office.

By law, the governor is to make an appointment from among the seven recommended candidates, but not before seven days and no later than 30 days after receiving the commission’s report. His appointment is subject to approval by the state Senate.

The court will have another vacancy as of Jan. 1 with the retirement of Judge Robert S. Smith, who recently turned 70. State law requires Court of Appeals judges retire at the end of the year in which they reach the age of 70. Voters, last November, rejected a referendum to change the state Constitution to increase the age limit to 80 for Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices.

The Court of Appeals is facing additional vacancies in the next few years. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will turn 70 in 2015; Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr., 2016; and Judge Susan P. Read, 2017, but her term will expire in January of that year.

Filling out the rest of the bench are Judge Jenny Rivera, who was confirmed on Feb. 11, 2013, and Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, on May 6, 2013. They were both appointed by Cuomo.

The Commission on Judicial Nomination evaluates prospective candidates and recommends up to seven to the governor.

Judge Kaye said the commission took many steps to seek out the largest number of well-qualified applicants for the vacancy, including statewide solicitation and multiple notices to the media, bar associations, law schools and members of the judiciary and state government. The commission interviewed candidates from all parts of the state of various personal and professional backgrounds, drawing from the bench, the practicing bar and private sector.