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Hector LaSalle nominated to be next chief judge of New York state

New York State Court of Appeals.jpg
Wikipedia user Albany NY
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CC BY-SA 3.0
A view of the New York Court of Appeals in Albany, NY. The appeals court is the highest court in New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has made her choice for New York’s next chief judge: Hector LaSalle, a presiding justice of one of the state’s four appellate courts, who would be the first Latino man to hold the position.

“I am humbled by Governor Hochul's nomination, and I thank her for this tremendous honor,” LaSalle said. “I am committed to leading the Court with integrity and fairness, upholding justice, and protecting the rights of New Yorkers.”

The state Senate is expected to begin the confirmation process for LaSalle in January, when the full state Legislature returns to Albany for the new legislative session.

“He has the skills, experience, and intellect to ensure that our highest court is seen as a leader across the country," Hochul said in a statement. "Judge LaSalle has a sterling reputation as a consensus-builder, and I know he can unite the court in service of justice.”

The confirmation process for judicial nominations in New York is usually relatively noncontroversial. Lawmakers have, at times, expressed reservations about certain nominees, but that hasn’t derailed the confirmation process once in the last decade.

That could be different next year, according to Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens who’s the second-most powerful member in the upper chamber.

“Historically, the Senate, mostly under Republican control, has been a rubber stamp on these nominations, and has, in some cases, had hearings and votes to confirm on the very same day, not very deliberative and transparent,” Gianaris said.

“And we're committed now to fixing that as well and taking seriously our powers under the state constitution to advise and consent on these nominations.”

LaSalle’s nomination has already garnered criticism from progressives, who’ve taken issue with his background as a prosecutor, and a court decision he supported that they view as anti-union.

If LaSalle is confirmed, four of the seven judges on the Court of Appeals — a majority — would be jurists who’ve spent part of their career working in prosecution. Progressives had called on Hochul to nominate someone with experience as a public defender.

“Deeply disappointed in the Governor's nomination of someone with a clear anti-union, fundamentally conservative record on the bench to be Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals,” said Sen. Julie Salazar, D-Bronx. “I'm a hard no on Justice LaSalle's nomination.”

LaSalle has served as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department — one of the state’s four mid-tier courts — since last May, but has served as a justice on the appellate court since 2014. He was first elected as a state court judge in 2008.

He started his legal career with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he was hired as an assistant district attorney in 1993.

After a short stint in private practice, and a few years at the New York Attorney General’s Office, he returned to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked in the Special Investigation Bureau until he was elected to the bench.

Progressive groups were quick to point out on Thursday that LaSalle joined the majority in a Second Department decision that allowed Cablevision to sue a pair of union reps for defamation over comments they made about the company’s response after Hurricane Sandy.

“His decisions make clear that his judicial philosophy is wrong for New York, and that, if confirmed as Chief Judge, he would be a continuation of former Chief Judge DiFiore’s right-wing Court of Appeals,” said Peter Marin from the Center for Community Alternatives, a criminal justice advocacy group.

LaSalle said, if he’s confirmed, he plans to appoint Edwina Richardson-Mendelson as the state’s chief administrative judge, a position that handles the day-to-day operations of the court system. Richardson-Mendelson is currently the deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives.

Dan Clark is managing editor of New York NOW.