ICYMI: Governor Hochul's Op-ed in the New York Daily News: the Chief Judge New York Deserves

Government and Politics

November 23, 2022

From: New York Governor Kathy Hochul

ICYMI: Governor Hochul's Op-ed in the New York Daily News: the Chief Judge New York Deserves

Today, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Governor Kathy Hochul on the selection process for the next chief judge on the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. Text of the op-ed is available below and can be viewed online here.

New York will soon have a new chief judge on the Court of Appeals, the highest court in our state. The statutory selection process starts with the state Commission on Judicial Nomination, with the majority of members appointed before my tenure as governor. As required by law, they will send me a list of seven candidates from among dozens of applicants, from which I must select the top jurist for our state.

I will work hard over the next month to identify the most qualified and capable person for this role from that list and will then send my nomination to the state Senate for its approval.

Our Court of Appeals, New York's court of last resort, has always been a crown jewel of justice. Going back to Chief Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo's tenure as chief judge in the early 1900s, and even earlier, the court was renowned for its persuasive and thoughtful decisions — on issues ranging from protecting consumers, to advancing civil rights and the right to effective counsel.

Against the backdrop of this proud tradition, I am looking to select a chief judge to lead the court in a time of both great challenges and opportunities.

First, we need a leader who, through intelligence and conviction, can unite the existing court so that it speaks in a strong and respected voice.

The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken — with decisions such as Dobbs vs. Jackson, taking away a woman's right to choose, and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen, tossing a century-old law protecting New Yorkers from the proliferation of guns. We are now relying on our state courts more than ever to protect our rights. We need our courts to defend against this Supreme Court's rapid retreat from precedent and continue our march toward progress.

Second, we need a leader who can effectively manage the diverse and complex courts across the state. We have family courts, criminal courts, commercial courts, civil courts, housing courts, mental health courts, domestic violence courts and other community, trial and appellate courts. Because of the determination that jurors needed to be six feet apart during COVID, criminal cases slowed to a crawl. The pandemic took a major toll on the operations of the courts and our new chief judge must work aggressively to return court activity, especially criminal proceedings, to pre-pandemic levels to protect public safety.

When I became governor in August 2021, I made it clear that keeping New Yorkers safe would be my top priority. From March 2020 through the summer of 2021, there were virtually no criminal trials. This created a huge backlog in the court system, one we are still grappling with today, and it coincided with a serious increase in crime. I worked right away to provide the court system with guidance on social distancing that helped revive jury trials.

But there is more work to do. At the start of the pandemic, Rikers Island held 883 pretrial defendants with 1,191 cases. Now, Rikers has 1,418 pretrial defendants who have cases that are more than a year old. The number of misdemeanor and felony cases pending in our courts increased 55% and 17% respectively since the start of the pandemic, based on data from the Office of Court Administration. The median case age for the primary cases for people held on Rikers has tripled in length and the average number of adjournments for criminal cases has quadrupled. This has all added up to more than double trouble for New York City and State — and to a major challenge for our next chief judge.

In sum, we need a leader who will serve as a partner to me and to my colleagues in the Legislature so that the three branches of government can work together to serve and protect New Yorkers rights and safety, to bring reforms and modernization to the courts and to ensure that justice is done. We know that justice delayed is justice denied — and not just for litigants and criminal defendants, but for victims of crime and others who depend on a functioning justice system.

You may not realize it, but this will matter for all New Yorkers. The court rules on a tremendous range of issues — from housing protections to business disputes to medical malpractice to voting rights. You may not know it now, but you may well feel the impact of a decision from this very court.

This is a tall order for our next chief judge. I am committed to selecting the best candidate to meet these challenges and send a clear message that New York courts are open for business, protecting individual rights, ensuring the rule of law, and partnering with other branches of government to provide a safe and prosperous future for our state.