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Commission puts 7 on short list for chief judge

The Commission on Judicial Nomination released its report to Gov. Andrew Cuomo with a list of seven lawyers to be considered for the position of the state’s next top judge.

Jonathan Lippman

Jonathan Lippman

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who turned 70 this May, must retire at the end of the year as the presiding judge at the state Court of Appeals and chief administrator of the court system.

The commission’s report contains the names of seven candidates who they deem well qualified, by virtue of their character, temperament, professional aptitude, experience, qualifications and fitness for office, to fulfill the duties of that high office.

The post pays $198,600 a year. The term is 14 years.

Judge Judith S. Kaye, chair of the commission, stated, “I am gratified at the extraordinary quality and diverse backgrounds of our applicants. 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.”

The nominees are:

• The Hon. A. Gail Prudenti, executive director of the Center for Families, Children and the Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law, Hofstra University, and former New York chief administrative judge;

• Stephen P. Younger, attorney in private practice (Patterson Belknapp Webb & Tyler LLP) and former New York State Bar Association president (2010).

• Janet DiFiore, Westchester County district attorney;

• Carey R. Dunne, attorney in private practice (Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP);

• Michael J. Garcia, attorney in private practice (Kirkland & Ellis LLP) and former Manhattan U.S. attorney;

• Caitlin J. Halligan, attorney in private practice (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP);

• Rowan D. Wilson, attorney in private practice (Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP);

Judge Lippman said Thursday that there couldn’t be a greater responsibility or privilege with what are essentially two major jobs that occupy him constantly every day. He was nominated in 2009 by Gov. David Paterson.

The first job needs the intellectual and legal acumen to preside over cases at the state’s highest court and interpersonal skills to be effective with six other judges who all have different contributions on any particular case, Judge Lippman said. The second needs the administrative ability to oversee a state judiciary with a $2.5 billion budget and vision on a policy level to deal with the issues facing the justice system in challenging times, he said.

“The ills of society and the problems that society faces ultimately come to the courts,” Judge Lippman said. “On the civil side of things we certainly have the issue of access to justice and legal services for those in need. … On the criminal side with so many issues around the country in the last period of time relating to the public’s confidence in what we do and the alienation in different communities.”

The constitutional mission is equal justice, and one challenge is to maintain public trust in the system, he said.

By law, the governor is required to make his chief judge appointment from among the commission’s list between Nov. 15, and Dec. 1. The state Senate then, within 30 days after receipt of the governor’s choice, must confirm or reject the appointment.

The commission’s report follows months of outreach efforts that were conducted through public announcements, individual solicitations of applications and an informational meeting held by the commission in Albany. These efforts resulted in the receipt of 33 applications. The applicant pool was also diverse – of the applicants, eight (24.2 percent) were women and seven (21.2 percent) of diverse backgrounds. The commission ultimately interviewed 16 candidates, of whom eight (50 percent) were female, and five (31.3 percent) were ethnic minorities.

Although the Commission on Judicial Nomination has now completed its role with respect to the chief judge vacancy, the commission still must furnish another slate of candidates to fill the vacancy left on the Court of Appeals by the recent resignation of Judge Susan P. Read. The Commission must deliver its list to the governor no later than Dec. 22.

The next scheduled vacancy on the Court of Appeals will occur on Jan. 1, 2017, when Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. is subject to mandatory retirement by reason of age.