Associated Press - 1:17 p.m., Wednesday, February 11, 2009
ALBANY -- The state Senate has approved the appointment of a longtime administrative judge to head New York's court system and preside at the Court of Appeals. Judge Jonathan Lippman, confirmed Wednesday by voice vote, joins the top court to replace Judge Judith Kaye, who retired. Earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 22-0 with one abstention to advance the nomination. While noting Lippman's qualifications, several senators criticized the selection process and the Commission on Judicial Nomination for failing to include any women on its short list of seven potential nominees. Lippman, a midlevel appeals court presiding judge, is former chief administrative judge of the state court system. He worked for a decade with Kaye on court reforms.
Lippman Confirmed as Chief Judge
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - February 13, 2009
ALBANY - Jonathan Lippman, a lifetime employee of New York state courts, was confirmed as chief judge this afternoon by the state Senate without a single negative vote. Chief Judge Lippman, the presiding justice in the Appellate Division, First Department since 2007, faced virtually no criticism from senators, either from those on the Judiciary Committee or in the full Senate. The committee confirmed his nomination by Governor David A. Paterson, 22-0, with one abstention and the Senate followed suit in a voice vote with no opposition. The new chief judge said he would hear his first oral arguments from the center seat at the Court of Appeals on Thursday. Chief Judge Lippman, 63, succeeds Judith S. Kaye, who was forced to step down at the end of 2008 due to the Court's mandatory retirement rules. She served as chief judge for more than 15 years, the longest tenure in state history. While no senators questioned Chief Judge Lippman's credentials, several attacked the system that led to his nomination.
The Commission on Judicial Nomination's list of seven candidates from which Mr. Paterson had to nominate a new chief judge contained the names of no women and only one minority, current Court of Appeals Associate Judge Theodore T. Jones Jr., who is black. Speaking to the full Senate, Eric Adams, D-Brooklyn, called the nominating process a "sad moment for the state of New York" and another in a long series of discouraging setbacks for the black and Hispanic legal communities. "We cannot stay in the minor leagues our entire lives," Mr. Adams, who is black, told the Senate as Chief Judge Lippman and his family looked down on the proceedings from the chamber's gallery. "We need to play in the major leagues. . . . If we can integrate the White House, we can integrate the black robes." Judiciary Committee Chairman John L. Sampson, D-Brooklyn, said from the Senate floor that senators expect the chief judge to follow through on his assurances to them that he will do all he can to expand diversity on state court benches and guarantee that defendants of all races are treated fairly in New York courts. "We don't want lip service as to inclusion, we want inclusion," Mr. Sampson said. "We want to be at the table."
Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Pedro Espada Jr., both D-Bronx, said they were joining Mr. Adams in abstaining from voting for Chief Judge Lippman in what they said was a protest over the lack of diversity in the nominating process. "I am abstaining from voting because we have a problem, and if I vote 'yes,' that makes me part of the problem," Mr. Diaz said during the committee hearing. "My conscience does not allow me to come here to vote 'yes.'" Judge Jones, Court of Appeals Associate Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Second Department Presiding Justice A. Gail Prudenti all spoke to the committee in support of Chief Judge Lippman's confirmation. "There is no one person in the court system today that deserves this more than Jonathan Lippman, who has labored in the judicial vineyards for so many years," Judge Ciparick said.
Judge Ciparick applied for the chief judge's position, but did not make the Commission on Judicial Nomination's final list to the governor. "I would be dishonest if I didn't say to you that I would have loved to have been the subject of today's proceedings," Judge Ciparick told Judiciary Committee members. "I would have made a good chief judge, but Jonathan Lippman will be a great chief judge." Judge Jones did not allude to his own candidacy for chief judge, but said that Chief Judge Lippman's experience as chief state administrative judge from 1996 to 2008 would be especially valuable in keeping the courts operating during the current economic times. "I expect that his years of experience, which he'll be bringing to this process, will be of great significance in maintaining our economically independent judiciary," Judge Jones said. In his remarks to the Judiciary Committee, Chief Judge Lippman said he has devoted his professional life to the state court system. Other than his family, Chief Judge Lippman said he cares most about the courts and its employees. "It's what moves me," he said. "It's my passion. It's what I care about."
Chief Judge Lippman told senators he is committed to diversity in the court system and the even-handed dispensing of justice by the courts. He said he also remained committed to securing the first pay raise for state judges in a decade and wanted to work with the Legislature and the governor to create a commission that would periodically recommend raises for judges and state legislators that would be subject to the approval by the governor and state lawmakers. Chief Judge Lippman called the delay since the last time judges got raises in 1999 a "debacle" and said getting judges raised is his "priority No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5." "There is nothing more important to our constituency and the courts," he said. Chief Judge Lippman, a Democrat, grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He graduated from New York University School of Law in 1968 and immediately went to work for the courts. He was selected as presiding justice of the First Department in 2007 by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer. His confirmation gives male judges a 4-3 majority over women on the Court of Appeals. Barring resignation or illness, the new chief judge's term will run through Dec. 31, 2015, the year in which he will reach the Court's mandatory retirement age of 70. Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com