Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore to be New York’s chief judge.
DiFiore, Westchester’s top prosecutor for nearly a decade, would replace Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is 70 and who must retire after this year because of age.
Cuomo says the 60-year-old DiFiore has been a judge, has been involved in judicial reforms and is “tremendously qualified.”
“She has served as both judge and prosecutor, and has spent her career working to ensure justice and fairness for New Yorkers, the governor said in a statement. “She has led crucial reform efforts to make our judicial system both more effective and more efficient, and I am confident that she would continue this leadership on the Court of Appeals.
The chief judge is responsible for administering the state court system and presiding at the Court of Appeals, its top court. Appointments to the top court are for 14 years and are subject to Senate confirmation. However, DiFiore will reach mandatory retirement age before her term’s 14 years are up.
Cuomo chose her from seven lawyers advanced by a nominating commission as well-qualified among 33 applicants.
The New York State Bar Association had listed her as “qualified’ but had singled out three other candidates as “well qualified.”
In a statement, NYSBA President David P. Miranda commended the governor for the nomination.
DiFiore, he said, “brings to the court valuable insight and experience as a former district attorney, state Supreme Court justice and Westchester County judge.”
“She also has served on numerous commissions to advance the fair administration of justice, including former Chief Judge Kaye’s Commission on the Future of Criminal Indigent Services, and as co-chair of Chief Judge Lippman’s Task Force on Wrongful Conviction,” Miranda added.
DiFiore was also Cuomo’s first appointee to head the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics. She resigned in 2013.
DiFiore said in a statement she was “humbled” by nomination.
“My professional life has been devoted to the fair administration of justice, and I would gladly continue my service to the people of New York on our state’s highest court,” she said.
If confirmed by the state Senate, DiFiore would be the state’s second female chief judge. The first – Chief Judge Judith Kaye – was nominated by Gov. Mario Cuomo.
DiFiore is in her third term as Westchester County’s DA. She has targeted a broad array of crimes, from gang-related violence to identity theft and environmental pollution. She has considerable experience with domestic violence issues, and has spearheaded efforts to improve the investigation and handling of child abuse cases.
DiFiore spent more than six years on the bench of state and local courts. She first served as a Westchester County Court judge from January 1999 to December 2002, and was later elected to serve as a Supreme Court justice for the New York State Criminal Courts, 9th Judicial District, from January 2003 to May 2005.
As a supervising judge on the state’s criminal court, she oversaw a restructuring of the case assignment system to increase efficiency and achieve the first elimination of all backlogged cases in any of the state’s judicial districts. She was directly involved in the creation of Mental Health and Sex Offenders courts, as well as the implementation of the newly established Domestic Violence and Drug Treatment courts.
DiFiore is a past president of the New York State District Attorneys Association, and has served on the New York State Commission on Youth, Safety and Justice, which recommended both statutory and administrative reforms pertaining to the prosecution and imprisonment of youthful offenders, as well as the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics as its chair. She received her Bachelor of Arts from C.W. Post College, Long Island University, and her juris doctor from St. John’s University School of Law.
Judge Lippman praised Cuomo’s choice of DiFiore, whom Judge Lippman had appointed to the New York State Justice Task Force six years earlier.
“Judge DiFiore’s stellar career has been marked by great achievements at every turn, and an unstinting commitment to justice and the fairness of the legal process,” Judge Lippman said.