Hochul could pick two Court of Appeals judges from current shortlist

That means neither the new chief judge nor the new associate judge would be Latino.

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Latino activists hoping for the first Latino chief judge had their hopes dashed last week – and now it looks like the chance to even get a new Latino associate judge to join the state’s highest court isn’t in the cards either.

Late Monday night, Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced a program bill – sponsored by state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal – that would speed up the process of nominating a new associate judge of the Court of Appeals to replace a current associate judge who’s elevated  to chief judge. The Commission on Judicial Nomination’s shortlist of seven chief judge candidates included three current Court of Appeals judges: Shirley Troutman, Rowan Wilson and Anthony Cannataro. If Hochul chooses to nominate one of them for the top spot, their current position would become vacant, allowing the governor to nominate another person to take their place. Under the proposed new bill, Hochul would be allowed to just pick another name from the current shortlist to nominate as an associate judge, rather than requiring the Commission on Judicial Nomination to go through the entire application and vetting process again to create a new shortlist of candidates for the vacant associate judge position.

The bill all but assures that Hochul intends to pick one of the associate judges, and likely that she wants to avoid the lengthy committee process to have a fully seated Court of Appeals. But for Latinos seeking greater representation in the highest echelons of government, the move from the governor signals that she probably won’t tap a Latino to replace Troutman, Wilson or Cannataro.

The list released by the Commission on Judicial Nomination following the rejection of Justice Hector LaSalle included no Latinos, a fact that the group Latinos for LaSalle lamented. “It should be patently obvious to any observer that this targeted effort ensures no Latinos are appointed to the Court of Appeals,” Roberto Ramirez, a member of Latinos for LaSalle and former Assembly member, said in a statement. “This is the death knell of 50 years of merit selection in New York state.” If Hochul decided to choose from the current chief judge list rather than allow the Commission on Judicial Nomination to solicit new applications, no new Latinos would join current Associate Judges Jenny Rivera and Michael Garcia.

Of the three sitting Court of Appeals judges, Troutman may be Hochul’s favorite. A fellow Buffalo native and long-time acquaintance of Hochul’s, Troutmant was the governor’s first appointee to the bench, unlike former Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointees Wilson and Cannataro. Wilson is the second most likely given his seniority and popularity with the more progressive wing of the party. Cannataro is the least likely of the three given that Hochul passed him over when the previous list came out and considering his close ties to former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

Of course, Hochul could always choose someone not already on the Court of Appeals as the next chief judge, which would not open up an associate judge seat and render the new program bill moot. The governor could also permit the Commission on Judicial Nomination to create a new candidate list for a potential upcoming vacancy, opening up the prospect of getting Latino representation again.

If she does choose Troutman or Wilson to be chief judge, then attention will turn to her choice for associate judge. Among the remaining candidates on the shortlist, Hochul may choose private attorney Caitlin Halligan, the former state solicitor general, as the new associate judge. The Buffalo News had previously reported that Hochul sought to retain her in the event that the fight over LaSalle went to court.