ALBANY — Gov. Hochul has a new slate of seven candidates to pick a candidate to be New York’s next chief judge after Senate Democrats rejected her first pick to head the state judiciary last month.
The governor now has 30 days to choose a candidate to head the state Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, from a short list released Friday by the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Hochul must weigh the panel’s recommendations after the Democratic-led state Senate unseated his initial nominee, Judge Hector LaSalle, in an unprecedented pushback that followed weeks of conflict over his record, questions about constitutional duty and a Republican lawsuit over the process.
LaSalle’s nomination drew opposition from progressive lawmakers, as well as unions and other groups who considered him too conservative to lead the state’s sprawling judicial system.
Among the commission’s new recommendations are Justice Anthony Cannataro, acting Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, as well as two other judges currently serving on the state’s highest court: Justice Shirley Troutman and Justice Rowan Wilson.
Two appellate court judges made the list: Hon. Elizabeth Garry, Presiding Judge of the 3rd Appellate Division and the Hon. Gerald Whalen, presiding judge of the Fourth Appellate Division.
In addition, Caitlin Halligan, an attorney and former general counsel with the Manhattan district attorney’s office who also served as the state’s attorney general from 2001 to 2007, and Corey Stoughton, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, both made the list.
“I am pleased with the extraordinary quality and diversity of applicant backgrounds received by the Commission,” E. Leo Milonas, the commission’s chair, said in a statement. “That so many exceptional candidates were motivated to apply demonstrates the remarkable strength and depth of the legal profession in New York State.”
LaSalle, a presiding judge of the Second Appellate Division in Brooklyn, was initially nominated by Hochul in December following the resignation of former chief judge Janet DiFiore last summer.
Initially, Senate Democrats refused to give her nomination a plenary vote and rejected LaSalle during a committee hearing in January. That sparked a lawsuit from Republican lawmakers that resulted in a Long Island judge ruling that future nominees must get a full House vote. LaSalle was formally rejected last month in a 39-20 vote on the full Senate.
Opponents argued that the former prosecutor’s court records showed he was anti-union, anti-reproductive and generally too conservative to lead the state court system.
Before the above shortlist was released last year, several lawmakers, including state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called on the commission to include candidates with diverse backgrounds, including civil rights attorneys , tenant advocates and advocates, by collecting tips over the summer.
The calls came in the wake of a US Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion protections and criticism that New York’s supreme court was being pushed to the right by a quartet of conservative-leaning justices led by by DiFiore.
Following LaSalle’s formal rejection, Hochul said he would use the same criteria he applied when choosing a new candidate.
“I will always do what I did before and I will do in the future, and that is to select the person who I think is the best person and the best person to lead an extraordinary court,” he said last month.