Cuomo Picks Eng as PJ for Second; First Asian American to Head an Appeals Court

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo this afternoon elevated Second Department Justice Randall T. Eng to the top spot on the 22-judge appeals court based in Brooklyn. He is the first Asian American ever to be appointed as a presiding justice of one of the state’s four intermediate appellate courts. The Second Department, which covers 10 counties, stretching from the mid-Hudson valley through a swath of New York City to the eastern tip of Long Island, is the state’s largest.

Mr. Cuomo also promoted six other Supreme Court justices to the appellate division in the First, Second and Fourth departments.

Justice Eng has been on the Appellate Division for the past five years, and was elected to the Supreme Court from Queens in 1990. The first seven years of his judicial career were spent on the Criminal Court. The governor chose Justice Eng from a list of ten judges given him by his screening committee. Click here for list provided by the governor’s screening panel. The list was provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Mr. Cuomo also named Brooklyn Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix to the Second Department, leaving one vacancy to be filled on that court. Judge Hinds-Radix was selected from two lists containing seven names supplied by his screening committee for the Second Department. Click here for lists.

In the First Department,the governor filled all three outstanding vacancies, bringing the Manhattan-based court to full strength at 20 judges. The Supreme Court justices who won the governor’s nod were Justices Judith S. Gische and Paul Feinman, both from Manhattan, and Justice Darcel Clarke, who was elected in the Bronx, the other county covered by the First Department.  In making his choices, the governor had eight names to chose from. Click here to see list.

Mr. Cuomo also filled two of three vacancies in the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which covers 22 counties from central New York through the western end of the state. One of the newly minted appellate judges is Justice Joseph Valentino, who has been in charge of handling criminal cases in Rochester and seven nearby counties since early 2011. Justice Gerald Whalen, who sits in Buffalo, was also promoted to the Fourth Department.

The appointments bring some much needed relief to the state’s intermediate appellate courts though one vacancy remains in each of the Second, Third and Fourth departments.

The three open seats in the First Department had been open for better than a year and a half. The two associate justice vacancies in the Second Department have been open for 13 and 21 months respectively. The presiding justice post in the 22-judge court has been filled on an acting basis by the court’s senior judge, Justice William F. Mastro, since Justice A. Gail Prudenti left the position last December to become the chief administrative judge of the court system.

The Fourth Department, which only has 12 judges, has soldiered on with three vacancies with one of them dating back to Jan. 1, 2010. The other two date from early this year. One vacancy remains to be filled there.

The Third Department still awaits the appointment of a judge to fill the one vacancy on the court which opened up at the beginning of this year. Mr. Cuomo appointed on the courts’ associate justices, Karen Peters, as presiding justice in April.

Varied Backgrounds

The governor’s appointees come from both sides of the criminal bar. Justice Eng began his legal career as a prosecutor in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office and went on to serve for three years as the inspector general of the New York City Correction Department.

Justice Clark also started her legal career as a prosecutor, spending 13 years in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office where she rose to become the supervisor of the Narcotics Bureau. Similarly, Justice Valentino spent eight years early in his career as an assistant district attorney at the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.

Justice Feinman began his legal career handling criminal cases and appeals for the Legal Aid societies in Nassau County and in New York City.

The other three judges promoted yesterday came from different sectors of the bar prior to their judicial careers. Justice Gishe began her career in the legal department of the Third Department and then spent eight years in private practice at Richenthal Abrams & Moss in New York City.

Justice Hinds-Radix spent 16 years as an attorney working for the legal services program operated by District 37, the largest union of municipal employees in the state. She rose to become the chief counsel of the union’s immigration program. Justice Whelan was first elected to the bench as a Supreme Court justice in 2005. At the time he had 21 years experience in private practice, most recently as a partner at Hiscock & Barclay in Buffalo.

In addition to the three vacancies that remain to be filled, another vacancy will open up in the Second Department when Justice Ariel Belen leaves in two weeks to join JAMS, an alternative dispute resolution firm.

Further, several Appellate Division justices are facing tough re-election fights to hold onto their seats. First Department Justice James M. Catterson and Second Department Justice Peter B. Skelos, both Republicans, are in contested races in the Tenth Judicial District, which covers Long Island. One of Justice Skelos’ opponents will be Justice Leonard B. Austin, a Democrat, who also sits on the Second Department. Judgeships are toward the bottom of the ballot, and President Obama has been polling well in New York.

Similarly, two Third Department justices —E. Michael Kavanagh and Bernard J. Malone, both Republicans—could face stiff uphill battles in November. No Republican has won a contested election in the Third Judicial District, which covers Albany and five nearby, counties since 1996.

DanielJWise©2012

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