NY governor gets new list of chief judge candidates after nominee rejected

2022 U.S. midterm elections
New York Governor Kathy Hochul celebrates at her U.S. midterm election night party after winning re-election in New York, New York, U.S. November 8, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • List includes five judges, two well-known lawyers
  • Senate last month said governor's first choice was too conservative

(Reuters) - A New York state panel on Friday sent Governor Kathy Hochul a list of seven candidates to be the state's new chief judge, after the Democrat's first choice was rejected by lawmakers from her own party.

The state Commission on Judicial Nomination delivered the list to Hochul barely more than a month after the state Senate voted down Hochul's nomination of appellate judge Hector LaSalle.

The new list includes two people who had been floated as candidates along with LaSalle in November: Court of Appeals Judge Anthony Cannataro, who has been serving as acting chief judge, and Corey Stoughton, a well-known civil rights lawyer.

Also on the list are Court of Appeals Judges Rowan Wilson and Shirley Troutman, either of whom would be New York's first Black chief judge; Caitlin Halligan, a partner at Selendy Gay Elsberg and former New York solicitor general; and appellate judges Elizabeth Garry and Gerald Whalen.

Many Democrats and progressive groups objected to Hochul's nomination of LaSalle due to concerns that he was too conservative, including on issues relating to abortion rights and unions. LaSalle has maintained that his critics mischaracterized his record.

The Senate's rejection of LaSalle, which was unprecedented in New York, staved off a potential constitutional crisis triggered when legislative leaders initially said they would not bring the nomination to the floor for a vote. A Republican senator had filed a lawsuit in February seeking to force a vote.

New York's chief judge is the top judge on the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, and oversees the administration of the state's massive court system.

State law requires Hochul to choose a nominee from the list of candidates between April 8 and April 23. If confirmed, that person will replace former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who stepped down in August.

If a sitting Court of Appeals judge is nominated and confirmed it would create a new vacancy on the court, requiring the nomination commission to vet applicants and send another list of candidates to the governor.

A spokeswoman for Hochul said the governor's office is reviewing the list.

E. Leo Milonas, a partner a Pillsbury Winthrop and the chair of the nomination commission, in a statement said he was gratified by the quality and diversity of the applicants for the chief judge position.

The 12-member commission said that of the 54 people who applied for the job, 52% were women and 31% were "of diverse backgrounds." The panel interviewed 25 candidates, including 15 women and 12 minorities.

Read more:

New York Senate rejects Governor Hochul's pick for top state judge

DiFiore to step down as New York high court's chief judge

N.Y. governor picks LaSalle to be new top judge, frustrating progressives

N.Y. Governor Hochul's pick for top judge rejected by Senate panel

New York state senator sues to force vote on blocked chief judge nominee

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.