The show's host, Susan Arbetter, pressed Cuomo on why he selected Rivera, who had worked for him briefly in the attorney general's office, over Justice Rolando Acosta of the Appellate Division, First Department (See Profile).
Acosta, like Rivera, is Hispanic. But unlike Rivera, Acosta has years of experience as an appellate and trial judge and was the only one of the seven candidates who garnered the top rating from four major bar groups: the New York State Bar Association, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, the Women's Bar of the State of New York and the New York City Bar.
"I don't want to compare anyone to any one other person," Cuomo responded. "You are assuming you know the background of every individual and…all the facts we know."
Cuomo, who had to choose from the seven names provided to him by the Commission on Judicial Nomination, also stressed that he does not believe judicial experience is a requisite to sit on the Court of Appeals.
The governor noted that former Chief Judge Judith Kaye had never been a judge before she was appointed to the court by his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, in 1983. Kaye, however, as several observers have noted, had practiced for 20 years and was a highly regarded commercial litigator when the elder Cuomo put her on the bench.
"I reject the premise that unless you were a judge you cannot be a good judge," Cuomo said. "I know Jenny Rivera. I worked with her in the attorney general's office. She'll bring a different perspective than most judges, but I think that's what will make the court a better court."
Former Judges' Letters
In their letters, all of which begin "Dear Chairman Bonacic and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee," Bellacosa, Levine and Hancock say that a career in academia should not preclude an individual from serious consideration for the court.
"It has come to my attention that some sources have challenged the qualifications of Professor Jenny Rivera for service on the Court of Appeals on the ground that an academic legal career provides insufficiently broad professional experience adequately to address and resolve the myriad legal issues that come before the State's highest court," wrote Levine, now of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany.
He said that while he "certainly would not like to see the Court of Appeals composed only of law professors," an academic perspective would add to the court's intellectual diversity.
In an interview, Levine said he wrote the letter after "someone brought the matter to my attention." He declined to identify who approached him, but said it was not a member of the Cuomo administration.
"I felt it would be a shame to set some sort of automatic disqualification because of a career path that is actually one where the person's experience and accumulated knowledge would definitely be a positive contribution to the work product of a collegial court," Levine said.