Governor David A. Paterson appointed Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leland G. DeGrasse ( See Profile) and Bronx Supreme Court Justice Dianne T. Renwick ( See Profile) to the Appellate Division, First Department Friday, filling two of the three remaining vacancies on that court.
Justice DeGrasse, 62, is best known for his handling of a case brought to compel an overhaul of state aid-to-education formulas. The case ultimately yielded a ruling from the New York Court of Appeals in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State, 8 NY3d 14 (2006), which ordered an additional $1.9 billion in state aid annually for New York City’s schools.
Justice DeGrasse, who is married to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol E. Huff ( See Profile), was elected to the Civil Court in 1984 and to Supreme Court in 1988.
Justice Renwick, 47, who is married to Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, has been on the bench since 1997 when she was appointed as a Housing Court judge. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2001. Before joining the bench, she worked for 11 years for the Legal Aid Society, handling criminal cases, first in state court and then in federal court.
Justice Renwick’s appointment to the appellate bench raises the potential for a conflict in cases in which the Bronx District Attorney’s Office is a party in an appeal. Last year the office appeared in about 170 cases. Court sources said it is expected that Justice Renwick will not sit on panels that are assigned cases involving the prosecutor’s office. Similarly, they said, Justice DeGrasse will not participate in any appeals from decisions rendered by Justice Huff.
Today’s appointments bring to four the total that Mr. Paterson and his predecessor, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, have made to the First Department.
Three of those four appointees are minorities. Both Justices DeGrasse and Renwick are black, and Justice Rolando T. Acosta ( See Profile), who was appointed in January, is Hispanic.
Six of the 17 members of the First Department bench are now minorities. The three minority judges who predated Mr. Spitzer’s election were Justice Milton L. Williams ( See Profile), who is black; Justice Luis A. Gonzalez ( See Profile), who is Hispanic; and Justice Peter Tom ( See Profile) who is Asian.
With Justice Renwick’s appointment there are now two women on the First Department. The other is Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli ( See Profile).
Overall, Messrs. Paterson and Spitzer, both Democrats, filled 11 vacancies on the Appellate Division throughout the state. In addition to the vacancy in the First Department, one vacancy remains in the Third Department.
Former Governor George E. Pataki a Republican, filled 60 vacancies during his three terms as governor. Of the 60, four, or 6.6 percent, were minorities and eight, or 13.3 percent were woman. Mr. Pataki, however, appointed one woman, Justice Nancy E. Smith, to fill two vacancies, first in the Second Department and then in the Fourth.
The percentage of women and minorities appointed by the two Democrats has been significantly higher. Six of their appointees, or 54.5 percent, have been minorities, and four, or 36.4 percent, have been women.
With a changing of the guard in the governor’s counsel set for April 28, when Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James A. Yates ( See Profile)becomes Mr. Paterson’s counsel, it is unclear how the two remaining seats in the First and Third departments will be filled.
The appointment of Justices DeGrasse and Renwick could well be the last two where David Nocenti, who was counsel to Mr. Spitzer, plays a role.
In appointing Justices DeGrasse and Renwick, Mr. Paterson adhered to procedures set up by Mr. Spitzer, who issued an executive order establishing a screening panel to evaluate Appellate Division candidates. Both appointees were selected from a list of 13 candidates found highly qualified by the panel, and both were among six candidates for the First Department who were reportedly interviewed by Mr. Spitzer (NYLJ, Dec. 28, 2007).
Mr. Paterson, after receiving advice from Justice Yates, has several options. He could continue to use the lists of candidates approved by Mr. Spitzer’s panels. He could retain those panels, but instruct them to reopen the application process. Or he could start from scratch and issue a new executive order and reconstitute the panels.
Should Mr. Paterson continue to use the current list of candidates, there are eight judges who would be in the running for the remaining seat in the First Department: Justices Sheila Abdus-Salaam ( See Profile), Eileen Bransten ( See Profile), Helen Freedman ( See Profile), Barbara Kapnick ( See Profile), Sherry Klein Heitler ( See Profile), Rosalyn Richter ( See Profile), Nelson S. Roman ( See Profile) and Laura Visitacion-Lewis ( See Profile).
Similarly, five judges would be eligible for appointment to the Third Department: Justices Elizabeth Garry ( See Profile), Michael Lynch ( See Profile), Robert Mulvey ( See Profile), Thomas D. Nolan ( See Profile) and Philip Rumsey ( See Profile).
Yesterday Mr. Paterson also appointed Acting Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich ( See Profile) to fill out the term of former Appellate Division, Second Department Justice Stephen G. Crane who left the bench in February to join JAMS, an alternate dispute resolution firm. Judge Kornreich will serve as a trial-level justice in the Supreme Court in Manhattan, the borough from which Justice Crane was elected.
Justice Kornreich, 57, was elected to the Civil Court in 1994 and appointed as an acting Supreme Court justice in 2002.
Before her election to the bench, Judge Kornreich handled appeals for the Legal Aid in New York City and Nassau County.
- Daniel Wise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org