Bar Groups Call on Cuomo to Fill Appellate Vacancies
ALBANY - The New York State Bar Association and local bar leaders are growing increasingly alarmed over the Cuomo Administration's failure to fill vacancies on the Appellate Divisions, leaving all four departments shorthanded and the judicial system with a mid-level appeals bench that is nearly 20 percent depleted.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has not appointed an Appellate Division justice in more than a year, and the courts which have the final word on the vast majority of cases are short 13 judges out of the 66 allotted.
The First Department in Manhattan is down three of its 20 judges; the Second Department in Brooklyn is operating with 18 instead of 22 justices and often putting fewer oral arguments on its daily calendar than it would hear with a full staff; the Third Department in Albany is 33 percent short, with four its 12 positions vacant and recently went to four-judge panels; and the Fourth Department in Rochester is down two of its 12 judges. Both the Second and Third departments have vacancies going back two years.
In a letter last week to Cuomo, New York State Bar Association President David M. Schraver of Nixon Peabody in Rochester said the vacancies "are beginning to have a real impact on the operation" of the courts.
"I am aware that you take great care in filling judicial vacancies, and the State Bar Association fully supports your desire and efforts to select the best qualified candidates," Schraver wrote in a letter dated Sept. 26. "However, this procedure should not be so lengthy that it puts the courts in a position where it is difficult for them to function in a timely manner."
Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, said he expects appointments in the near future.
"The judicial screening committee takes its responsibility to identify and vet qualified candidates for the bench very seriously," Azzopardi said. "The process is deliberate, and sometimes time consuming."
The state bar did not publicly disseminate the letter, but released it Monday at the Law Journal's request after members of the organization and judges confirmed it had been sent to the governor.
Schraver said the inevitable delays that result from a short-handed bench adversely impact the administration of justice.
"Disputes, both personal and commercial, linger without resolution, thereby affecting those who rely on the courts as a forum for resolution," Schraver said in the letter. "For example, I have been told that in the Second Department, there is now a significant delay between the time the briefs are filed and argument is scheduled, with a period of up to one year in some cases."