ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday nominated Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore to be New York’s chief judge, responsible for administering the state court system and presiding at the Court of Appeals, its top court.
DiFiore, Westchester’s top prosecutor for nearly a decade, would replace Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Now 70, he must retire after this year.
“Chief judge is a very, very important position and I think she’s going to do an extraordinary job,” Cuomo said. He noted she now runs an office with 230 staff. “She has served as both judge and prosecutor, and has spent her career working to ensure justice and fairness for New Yorkers.”
Appointments to the top court are for 14 years. DiFiore, now 60, would have to retire before that.
They are also subject to Senate confirmation. Majority Leader John Flanagan has said the Senate won’t return before the regular session starting in January to consider it.
Cuomo chose her from seven lawyers advanced by a nominating commission as well qualified among 33 applicants. Others included former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia and former New York Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti.
DiFiore said she’s humbled by the honor. “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.
She resigned in 2013 as Cuomo’s first appointed chair of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. After news reports revealed that the commission’s first meeting was held in secret in December 2011, DiFiore said the panel chose not to follow the state Open Meetings Law, but would follow its “spirit.”
She was a Westchester County Court Judge from January 1999 to December 2002 and elected to state Supreme Court serving from 2003 to May 2005.
The seven-member Court of Appeals often makes case law for the state. As chief judge, DiFiore would be chief administrator of the court system and 3,600 state and locally paid judges. The post pays $198,600 a year.
Lippman praised the appointment, calling DiFiore an exemplary leader. The prosecutor co-chaired the task force he established in 2009 investigating wrongful convictions and recommending measures to end them like videotaping police interrogations, expanded use and access to DNA testing and double-blind photo arrays of suspects.
The New York State Bar Association, which rated DiFiore “qualified,” commended the nomination. The lawyers’ group rated three other candidates — Prudenti, Caitlin Halligan and Stephen Younger, past association president — “well qualified.”
If confirmed, DiFiore would become the state’s second female chief judge. Judith Kaye, who served in the position from 1993-2008, was the first.
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