Presiding Justice A. Gail Prudenti of the Appellate Division, Second Department, yesterday told her colleagues that she has accepted an appointment as chief administrative judge, a position she will assume on Dec. 1 following the departure of Judge Ann T. Pfau.
The appointment will formally be announced today, according to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
A Long Island Republican, Justice Prudenti, 58, has served in administrative roles for most of her judicial career.
Justice Prudenti was elected to the Supreme Court bench in 1992. But two years later, when a spot opened in Surrogate’s Court, where she had clerked and practiced, she ran for and won that judgeship.
Chief Judge Lippman, then chief administrative judge, appointed Justice Prudenti the Suffolk County administrative judge in 1999, when she was still in Surrogate’s Court.
A year later she ran for and won another Supreme Court position. Justice Prudenti said she sought the Supreme Court job because her administrative duties cut into her time to handle Surrogate’s Court matters and the county needed a full-time surrogate.
Justice Prudenti’s election to the Supreme Court made her eligible for appointment to the Appellate Division, and Governor George E. Pataki promptly promoted her in 2001. Justice Prudenti was on the court for only a year when Governor Pataki named her presiding justice.
Judge Lippman said he actually “discovered” Justice Prudenti a few years before he appointed her as Suffolk County’s administrative judge, when she had applied for the position under a different administration, and he immediately realized she was a “unique talent and a unique person.”
“She didn’t get the job, but she blew me away at the interview as a competent and capable judge with a wonderful ability to relate to people and see the big picture,” said Judge Lippman, who was then deputy chief administrator for the courts under Chief Administrative Judge E. Leo Milonas. “In that first interview, I was sold and thought we had a star on our hands, and I was right.”
Justice Prudenti said she was first approached by Judge Lippman for the top administrative post several months ago, when Judge Pfau expressed an interest in serving on a trial court, and hesitated.
“I have total mixed emotions about leaving the Appellate Division, Second Department, and I think he was well aware of that,” Justice Prudenti said. “I work with fabulous and incredibly hard working people, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave.”
Judge Pfau will on Dec. 1 become coordinating judge of the New York State Medical Malpractice Program, and she will also hear medical malpractice cases in Brooklyn.
The chief judge said he recruited Justice Prudenti to succeed Judge Pfau because of her ability to bring out the best in the people who work for her, while also winning their admiration and affection.
“She understands people and appreciates them, and engenders a loyalty you don’t get just by snapping your fingers,” Judge Lippman said.
“She is very much a people person who recognizes she is dealing with human beings who need to be listened to, understood and appreciated,” he added. “She sets a very high standard, but she does it in a way that endears her to people and fosters a loyalty to her and, more importantly, to the institution. “
Looking for New Resources
Justice Prudenti said she will begin by taking a microscopic top-to-bottom look at court operations, with an eye toward finding ways to utilize public-private partnerships and foundation resources to achieve goals that otherwise might be unattainable in this fiscal climate.
“I am very, very sensitive that we cannot burden the taxpayers,” Justice Prudenti said. “So I am going to be taking a good, hard look at revenue sources and funding streams. I really believe that we can form some public-private partnerships, that we can build some good relationships with the executive and legislative branch. I think we have to look outside the box to deploy new resources.”
Justice Prudenti said outside resources are especially important in expanding civil legal services and reforming juvenile justice, both high priorities for Judge Lippman.
“I want to work with the Center for Court Innovation and look for partners that have the same goal of equal justice for all,” she said. “I understand, I really, really do understand, what the state is facing and what the governor and Legislature are facing in these difficult fiscal times.”
Justice Prudenti said she sees her role as the court system’s “resource coordinator.”
“I will take the resources we have and utilize them where they are most needed, and then look for other sources that can be of assistance in initiatives that are important to the chief judge,” she said.
Judge Lippman acknowledged Justice Prudenti’s new position will be “no picnic,” especially in this fiscal environment.
“These are difficult times—difficult financial times, difficult fiscal times, a time of doing more with less, a time of great stress for state government and the judiciary,” Judge Lippman said. “Gail is a very creative and innovative administrator and leader, and I think she recognizes that you have to think outside the box, that you can’t just sit there and say ‘woe is me.’”
Judge Lippman said that when he first approached Justice Prudenti about the position, “she was already thinking of new avenues and ways to get done what we need to get done.”
Yesterday, Leslie D. Kelmachter, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Assocation, said Judge Lippman made an “excellent choice” in Justice Prudenti, who has shown “outstanding leadership.”
Judge Ann Pfau led the court system through difficult financial times “with intelligence, industry and integrity. We will miss her,” Ms. Kelmachter said, adding, “We are confident that Justice Prudenti will bring her considerable energy and skills to this new challenge. We look forward to working closely with her in the years to come.”
Justice Prudenti is a graduate of Marymount College in Tarrytown and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
She said she attended law school in Scotland because of an interest in international law and a plan to practice in either London or Edinburgh, but found herself “terribly homesick.”
As the graduate of a foreign law school, she had to petition the Court of Appeals for permission to take the bar examination. Years later, in 2006, Justice Prudenti was among the seven judges recommended by the Commission on Judicial Nomination for a position on the Court of Appeals. That appointment, by Mr. Pataki, went to Eugene F. Pigott Jr.
Justice Prudenti lives on Long Island with her husband, Robert J. Cimino, who previously served as Suffolk County Attorney and is now in private practice with Lewis Johs in Melville.
As chief administrative judge, Justice Prudenti will be paid $147,600 annually. She makes $142,700 as presiding justice.
Until a successor as presiding justice is designated by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, William F. Mastro, the senior associate judge of the Second Department, will serve as acting presiding justice.
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