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New York unlikely to have a new chief judge until after the budget

A snowy day at the New York State Capitol.
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
A snowy day at the New York State Capitol.

New York is not likely to have a new chief judge until later this spring.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will likely not ask the state Senate to consider a second nominee until the budget is finished sometime in April. The governor spoke recently for the first time since the Senate rejected her first choice for the job.

Hochul was rebuked by fellow Democrats in the state Senate when they voted not to confirm Hector LaSalle as chief judge of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The governor, who had urged for a full Senate vote even after the senators said they would not support LaSalle, said she will simply try again.

She has asked the state’s judicial nominating commission to suggest a new list of potential nominees.

“There's a committee of individuals, about 12 members, who take applications. That process is going on right now,” Hochul told reporters while visiting the Binghamton area on Feb. 22. “And then they look at the qualifications and recommend to me someone among seven that I would choose.”

But Hochul said with the state budget due April 1, she will put off what could be another contentious process until later in the spring.

Several Democratic senators warned Hochul as early as last summer, when former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore resigned, that they wanted a new chief judge who would steer the state’s highest court back to more liberal values and decisions.

Court scholars have documented that the court, under DiFiore and other appointees of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, leaned conservative in recent years.

Hochul did not heed the senators’ concerns and selected LaSalle, a moderate who heads the state’s largest mid-level appeals court, as her nominee.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected LaSalle and voted not to recommend him to the full Senate, the governor insisted on a vote by all 63 senators, even though it was clear that LaSalle would lose again.

Hochul said despite the rejections, she will not do anything differently this time around.

“I will always do what I did before and will do in the future, and that is select the person that I think will be the best individual, the best person, to lead an extraordinary court,” Hochul said.

The governor said she is also looking for a nominee with management experience because the job also involves running the vast $3 billion state court system. The governor said the courts still have not recovered from lengthy closures during pandemic-related lockdowns.

“That has been stagnated and jammed up during the pandemic, and it's still not operating the way I want it to be,” the governor said.

This time around, though, one thing will be different: Hochul is likely to see the full Senate vote promptly on her nominee.

A lawsuit brought by minority party Republicans to force a full Senate vote was successful. A judge ruled on Feb. 21 that the state’s constitution, which requires the “advice and consent of the Senate” for court nominees, means that all senators must vote on a governor’s nominee for the court. Whether the next nominee will be approved by the Senate, though, remains a question.

In the meantime, Hochul said the disagreement won’t detract from reaching agreement on a state budget. Senate leaders say they also will set aside their differences over choosing a chief judge and focus instead on the spending plan.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.