Open Letter to Governor Kathy Hochul
Although several vacancies were filled by Governor Andrew Cuomo, none of the justices appointed by the former Governor were of the Jewish faith.
NOTE: A copy of the original letter can be downloaded here. The online transcript can be read below.
Dear Governor Hochul:
This umbrella organization, consisting of the Brooklyn Brandeis Society, Jewish Lawyers Association of Nassau County, Jewish Lawyers Guild, Justice Brandeis Law Society 9th JD and the Brandeis Association - Queens County, writes to bring to your attention a matter which is extremely important, not only to us as Jewish members of the New York State bar and bench, but to all of the People of the State of New York.
As you are aware, on September 29, 2020, 46 of the 49 justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York who were turning 70 years old and above were denied certification by the Administrative Board of the New York State Court System, thus requiring them to have to suddenly retire on December 31, 2020. In April of 2021, after much support was garnered for these judges with the state's bar associations and the Legislature, these justices were invited to re-apply to be certificated. Approximately half of those justices were certificated and are currently serving as Supreme Court Justices. However, as an unfortunate result of this drawn-out process, and several retirements, many vacancies were created, principally in the Appellate Division, First and Second Departments. Very tragically, during this time period, an additional vacancy was created in the New York State Court of Appeals by the untimely death of the Hon. Paul Feinman. In fact, in less than one year ten vacancies were created in the Appellate Division, First and Second Departments and the New York State Court of Appeals. Nine of those vacancies were judges of the Jewish faith, including Judge Feinman. Although several vacancies were filled by Governor Andrew Cuomo, none of the justices appointed by the former Governor were of the Jewish faith. Significantly, in the Appellate Division, Second Department, prior to January 1, 2021, six of the 21 justices on the bench were Jewish, but as of December 31, 2021, with the impending retirement of Hon. Leonard Austin, there shall be no justice of the Jewish faith sitting in the Appellate Division, Second Department, which covers the largest Jewish population in the State of New York and one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, including, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties.
It is also of great concern to our organization that there is not currently one judge of the Jewish faith on the New York State Court of Appeals, our highest court, since the untimely death of Judge Feinman in March 2021. Notably, there had been at least one judge of the Jewish faith on the Court of Appeals continually since 1914, when the Hon. Benjamin Cardozo was elected to that position.
This untenable situation may be partially remedied immediately with the redesignation by you of the three former Appellate Division justices who have been certificated but not, as yet, redesignated to the Appellate Division. These three noted jurists, Hon. Sheri Roman of the Appellate Division, Second Department, and Hon. Ellen Gesmer and Hon. David Friedman of the Appellate Division, First Department, have inexplicably been required to work in the trial court and have not to date been redesignated to return to their respective Appellate Division positions despite each having a stellar reputation, a distinguished judicial career and a proven record of achievement. In the past, every justice of the Appellate Division who was certificated/re-certificated by the Administrative Board had also been redesignated by the Governor to the Appellate Division. However, when Justices Roman, Gesmer and Friedman were certificated, former Governor Cuomo did not reappoint them to their respective Appellate Divisions, even though they were highly recommended by the Governor's Judicial Screening Committee, the Presiding Justices of their respective Appellate Divisions had attested to the need for their services and fully supported their redesignations, and respective local bar associations, as well as the Bar Association of the City of New York, had supported their redesignations. There remain several open seats on both the First and Second Departments of the Appellate Division.
These distinguished jurists have served with distinction as Associate Justices on the Appellate Division First and Second Departments of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and clearly their vast experience is required today more than ever before. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to our judiciary and the People of the State of New York that they each be redesignated to the appellate bench without delay.
Our bar associations find the impending lack of a Jewish presence on the Appellate Division, Second Department, as well as the New York State Court of Appeals, wholly unacceptable, and emphasize that our Jewish bar associations have always supported and continue to support diversity on the bench but not to our complete exclusion.
We thank you for your consideration.
Board of Directors, Jewish Bar Alliance NY