ALBANY — The New York Senate on Monday confirmed former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia to the state’s highest court.
Garcia, partner at a New York City law firm, was the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan from 2005 to 2008. He’s a Republican whose office’s investigation into a prostitution ring led to the 2008 resignation of New York’s Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
He was the pick of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but promised senators at a confirmation hearing earlier Monday that he’ll be independent.
“Absolutely I’d exercise judicial independence and believe completely in the independence of the judiciary,” Garcia said. He cited training early in his career with two years as the law clerk to the late Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who he said was his favorite judge personally and professionally on New York’s high court.
The seven-member Court of Appeals hears appeals from lower courts and often makes case law for the state, which is sometimes influential in federal and other states’ courts.
Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic, a Middletown Republican, said Garcia’s was the most outstanding resume he’s seen in a nominee. A litigation partner for nearly seven years at Kirkland & Ellis in Manhattan, Garcia had been an assistant U.S. attorney for nine years who prosecuted high-profile terrorism cases and later held high-level federal posts in trade and customs enforcement.
Garcia also told senators that he’d be a practical jurist, adhering to and respecting the Constitution and attentive to prior court precedents. He believes the Second Amendment confers and a personal right to bear arms and that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has settled the law on abortion rights.
Garcia said his greatest accomplishment was getting a civil rights case reinstated by a federal appeals court, the conviction of a guard who killed a prisoner. “I thought that case was very important. I personally argued that appeal,” he said.
He replaces Judge Susan Read, a Republican, who retired. The full term is 14 years.
Garcia, 54, a Westchester resident, was among seven possible nominees advanced by a state commission. The commission had been headed by Kaye, who died last month.
Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, questioned the choice of Garcia, whom the New York State Trial Lawyers Association rated “qualified,” while rating four other candidates “highly qualified.”
Association President Evan Goldberg said ratings are based on interviews, writings and legal philosophy, that Garcia was rated only in his earlier application to be the state’s chief judge and that he’d never been a judge before, unlike some other applicants. Goldberg urged the senators to confirm him.
Garcia had made the short list for New York’s chief judge to preside at the Court of Appeals and be chief administrator of the state court system. Instead, Cuomo chose Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore for that post.
She was sworn in Monday in a formal ceremony attended by Cuomo and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, though she’s been on the job since her confirmation in January. Cuomo has appointed six judges to the current court.