NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's screening
panel has cleared at least six Supreme Court justices for
appointment to the Appellate Division, First Department,
Reuters has learned from court insiders.
The 11-member screening panel found four Manhattan
justices, one from Westchester County and one from the Bronx
eligible for appointment to one of the three vacancies on the
intermediate appeals court. Those rated as "highly qualified"
to join the 20-member court, the sources said, are Manhattan
Justices Eileen Bransten, Paul G. Feinman, Judith S. Gische and
Barbara Kapnick; Justice Alan D. Scheinkman, who sits in
Westchester; and Bronx Justice Robert E. Torres.
The committee has completed its interviewing for two of the
vacancies, and it is likely that Cuomo will announce his
choices within the next 30 days for those vacancies, a source
said. The two vacancies that are likely to be filled soon are
those arising from the departures of former Presiding Justice
John T. Buckley and Justice Eugene Nardelli, both of whom left
the bench at the end of last year.
The third vacancy, which is linked to the departure in May
of Justice James M. McGuire, who joined Dechert as a partner,
is not likely to be filled soon, according to the source,
because the committee has yet to decide which applicants it
In any event, first-hand sources said, the court is keeping
abreast of its caseload even though it has been operating with
only 17 judges since last November, when McGuire announced he
would be leaving. The court has been without the services of
Buckley since November 2009, when he was assigned to a position
at the the court's in-house continuing legal education center
in White Plains.
'RUMORS ARE FLYING'
Meanwhile, other sources report that the governor's panel
for the 10-county Appellate Division, Second Department, is
nearing the completion of its interviewing for one of two
existing vacancies on that court. That vacancy arose at the end
of last year when Justice Fred T. Santucci left the bench
because he had turned 70.
The governor's office has yet to post a notice soliciting
candidates to apply for the seat that opened up in September,
when Justice Joseph Covello resigned to become a name partner
at the firm now known as Lynn Gartner Dunne & Covello, in
Mineola. In addition, the governor's office will advertise for
applicants to fill the vacancy that will be created when the
Second Department's presiding justice, A. Gail Prudenti,
assumes her new duties as the court system's chief
administrative judge on Dec. 1.
One source with ties to the Second Department said "rumors
are flying" that Justice Scheinkman, who has been the
administrative judge of a five-county Supreme Court district in
the mid-Hudson Valley, will likely be in the running to succeed
Prior to his election to the Supreme Court in 2007,
Scheinckman was Westchester County Attorney for two years and a
partner for five years at two firms, Epstein Green & Becker in
midtown Manhattan and at DelBello, Donnellan, Weingarten,
Tartaglia, Wise & Wiederkehr in White Plains. He also clerked
for former New York Court of Appeals Judge Matthew J. Jasen.
Others suggested that Cuomo might tap Justice Peter Skelos,
the brother of Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos, and
mentioned Second Department Justice Cheryl Chambers as a strong
candidate. Once Justice Prudenti leaves, Justice William F.
Mastro, the court's senior justice, will become acting
QUEENS JUSTICE LIKELY TO REPLACE SANTUCCI
It is likely that Justice Santucci's replacement will be a
justice who was elected in Queens, a court handicapper said.
Queens lost a seat on the bench in 2009, when then-Gov. David
A. Paterson appointed Brooklyn Justice Robert J. Miller to
succeed Justice Steven W. Fisher, who died last December. Seven
of 20 justices currently sitting in the Second Department were
elected in Brooklyn and only two in Queens. Only Supreme Court
justices are eligible to serve in the Appellate Division.
Two of the six justices cleared for appointment in the
First Department are assigned to the Commercial Division in
Manhattan: Justice Bransten, who started her legal career as a
Queens prosecutor, had a solo practice for seven years and
briefly clerked for was now-retired Justice Jacqueline W.
Silbermann when she was in charge of the New York City Civil
Court before being elected to the Civil Court in 1993; and
Justice Kapnick, who clerked for former Justices Michael J.
Dontzin and Ethel B. Danzig prior to her election to the Civil
Court in 1991.
Justice Gische, who presided over former Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani's contentious divorce while he was in office, worked
as a senior attorney in a midtown litigation boutique and was a
Housing Court judge for four years prior to her election to the
Civil Court in 1993.
TWO JUDGES FOUND NOT QUALIFIED FOR PROMOTION
Justice Torres, who became a lawyer through an
apprenticeship rather than law school, clerked for 11 years for
former Bronx Justice Elbert C. Hinkson before his appointment
to the Criminal Court in 1996. In 2010, Torres was appointed to
the Appellate Term in Manhattan, which hears appeals from the
Civil and Criminal courts in Manhattan and the Bronx. According
to The New York Times, Torres twice had to withdraw from
Brooklyn Law School for academic reasons.
According to two sources, the governor's screening
committee found two judges not qualified for promotion to the
First Department: Justice John A. Barone, who worked in private
practice and clerked for Bronx Justice Harold Silverman for six
years prior to being elected to Civil Court in 1991; and
Justice David Friedlander, who had been president of the New
York City Tax Appeals Tribunal for 14 years before his election
to Supreme Court in 2003.
Justices Bransten and Kapnick declined to comment for this
article. All other judges did not respond immediately to
requests for comment. Attempts to reach Justice Friedlander
(Reporting by Dan Wise)
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