The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - June 13, 2009
WHITE PLAINS, NY - As the new top judge for the five-county area, state Supreme Court Justice Alan Scheinkman said he doesn't want to be "Westchester-centric." "I don't want to focus on just Westchester," he said. "Other counties have other issues." Scheinkman, a former county attorney for Westchester who was elected to the state court in 2006, is now the administrative judge for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties. Last week, he replaced Justice Francis Nicolai, who held the post for 10 years and is credited with reducing the backlog and creating special courts to handle domestic violence, drug cases and environmental claims. Nicolai will become the presiding justice of the state Supreme Court's Appellate Term for the 9th and 10th districts, where Scheinkman had been an associate justice. Scheinkman, a 59-year-old South Salem resident, is now the boss of 102 full-time judges in state and county courts, plus scores of part-time justices in town and village courts. He will do that while keeping his job as a "full-time working judge" in the civil court's commercial division.
Scheinkman said he wanted to use his new post to help the courts run more efficiently. He wants to change the rules so lawyers can file motions electronically - a mandatory practice in federal courts and a voluntary one in Manhattan's commercial courts. He also wants to work with Westchester's county clerk, and possibly those in other counties, to make files more quickly available for judicial review. "We want to maximize what we can produce, and one of the best ways we can do that is to use all of the technology available," he said. And in a move that might make some lawyers fume, Scheinkman wants to see if technology could eliminate unnecessary court appearances, when lawyers sometimes wait hours for a judge to call their case, only to reschedule. "Where people have a retained lawyer, they're obligated to pay that lawyer for hanging around; if the lawyer is assigned by the court, it becomes a taxpayer expense," he said. New York Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, who appointed Scheinkman, lauded his range of legal work, including as a clerk to a Court of Appeals judge, an attorney in the public and private sectors, and a law professor. "Over the last 30 years, Judge Scheinkman has served the legal community in nearly every capacity," she said. "He has gained an impeccable reputation for his insight, integrity and hard work."
Scheinkman was Westchester's county attorney in 1998-2000, when he joined the New York City law firm of Epstein, Becker & Green. The county's Board of Legislators waived its own ethics law so he could join the firm rather than wait a year before taking a job with a company that did business with the county. Four months later, Epstein, Becker & Green received a total of $225,000 in county contracts. Three years later, Scheinkman joined the White Plains law firm of Delbello, Donnellan, Weingarten, Tartaglia, Wise & Wiederkehr. The firm's top partner, former Westchester County Executive Alfred Delbello, said the county offered his firm $75,000 to review legal options to operate the Bee-Line bus system soon after hiring Scheinkman, who had negotiated the bus contract as county attorney in 1998. Scheinkman, a Democrat, said his county-related work at both law firms saved Westchester taxpayers money and came in at less than what the county had budgeted. He said the county has hired Epstein for more legal work since he left the firm. He added that he has followed the judicial ethics rules, which bars judges from hearing cases involving former law partners for at least two years.