Governor David A. Paterson yesterday appointed Appellate Division, First Department, Justice Luis A. Gonzalez ( See Profile) to head the 18-judge Manhattan-based court.

Justice Gonzalez, 63, who was born in Puerto Rico, is the first Hispanic to have been appointed a presiding justice of the Appellate Division in the state’s history.

Mr. Paterson selected Justice Gonzalez from a list of seven current First Department justices, all of whom had been forwarded to him after being found highly qualified by his screening panel. By executive order, Mr. Paterson is required to select from the list given him by the screening panel.

Justice Gonzalez succeeds Jonathan Lippman, who was confirmed as chief judge earlier this year ( NYLJ, Jan. 14).

Justice Gonzalez said in an interview yesterday that his two top priorities are addressing the court’s backlog and encouraging collegiality to get the court “to speak with one voice as much as possible.”

“The legal community is entitled to get quick decisions without sacrificing scholarship or correctness,” he said.

The backlog had been substantially reduced during Judge Lippman’s tenure ( Sept. 25, 2008). Justice Gonzalez said it has grown somewhat since then.

Justice Gonzalez, who was born in Manti, Puerto Rico, was just shy of turning 8 when his family came to New York for “economic reasons.” His father had been a carpenter in Puerto Rico and worked in a candy factory in New York. His mother was a homemaker.

Justice Gonzalez has been living in the Bronx since 1980, and was elected to both Civil Court and Supreme Court from that borough. He also was administrative judge of Supreme Court in the Bronx for three years and served on the Appellate Term, First Department, for four years.

He was appointed to the First Department, which hears appeals from Manhattan and the Bronx, in 2002.

Luis A. Gonzalez, 63

Judicial experience: associate justice, Appellate Division, First Department, 2002-present; administrative judge, Bronx Supreme Court, 1999-2002; associate justice, Appellate Term, First Department, 1998; justice, Bronx Supreme Court, 1993-1997; acting justice, Bronx Supreme, 1992; judge, Bronx Civil Court, 1987-1992; judge, Bronx Civil Court, Housing Part, 1985-1986

Other experience: Instructor, Civil Practice, Lehman College, 1991-present; hearing officer, state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, 1981-1985; general counsel, South Bronx Community Housing Corporation, 1980-1981; general counsel, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 1978-1980; private practice, Zuflacht & Gonzalez, 1976-1978; investigator, New York City Department of Investigations, 1975-1976

Colleges: B.A. Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., 1968; J.D., Columbia Law School, 1975

Personal: Born in Puerto Rico; divorced; two adult daughters

Latino bar leaders and minority politicians yesterday praised Mr. Paterson’s selection of Justice Gonzalez.

Assemblyman Darryl C. Townes, D-Brooklyn, who heads the minority caucus in the state Legislature, praised Mr. Paterson for “doing an outstanding job in continuing to diversify as well as to inject new energy into our court system.”

Roberto Ramirez, president elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and a former member of the Assembly, said “kudos to Governor Patterson” for making “a significant and timely” appointment that “affirms that a new generation of jurists have come of age that come from a very diverse community.”

Yvette D. Valdez, the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association in the New York region, said, “We are very proud to have Justice Luis A. Gonzalez” as the first Latino presiding justice of the appellate courts.

“His distinguished career, impeccable credentials and commitment to justice make him a perfect choice,” she said in a statement.

The governor’s selection of a Latino was not unexpected.

Mr. Paterson had expressed bitter disappointment over the lack of diversity on a list of candidates he had received from the Commission on Judicial Nomination for the chief judgeship. That list, from which the governor chose Judge Lippman to succeed Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, consisted of seven men, with only one a minority, Court of Appeals Judge Theodore T. Jones Jr., who is black.

The governor first publicly complained about the lack of diversity on the day the list was issued (NYLJ, Dec. 2, 2008) and again two days later at a news conference with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at his side (NYLJ, Dec. 4).

Court of Appeals Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was not included on the chief judge list.

Since becoming governor last year, Mr. Paterson has shown an inclination to promote minority judges or women to the Appellate Division. Of his eight appointments, half have been blacks (two were women and two men). He also has appointed three white women and one white man.

The other Hispanic contender for the appointment of presiding justice was Justice Rolando T. Acosta (See Profile), who is of Dominican heritage.

Of the 16 Latino members of the Assembly and Senate, legislative sources said, 11 come from Puerto Rican backgrounds and five from Dominican.

Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan), who is of Dominican origin, called Justice Gonzalez’s selection “a long deserved appointment.”

Justice Gonzalez has “a distinguished record of accomplishment and the judicial temperament and qualifications to lead” the court, he added.

The governor interviewed four of the seven judges found highly qualified by his screening panel, all of them minorities or female: acting Presiding Justice Peter Tom (See Profile), the court’s senior constitutional judge, who is of Chinese ancestry; Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli (See Profile), who is white; Justices Acosta and Gonzalez (NYLJ, March 23).

The other three candidates were Justices David B. Saxe (See Profile) and Richard T. Andrias (See Profile), both of whom are white, and Justice Dianne T. Renwick (See Profile), who is black.