ALBANY – Jonathan Lippman, the seasoned administrative judge who has been presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, since 2007, was tapped yesterday by Governor David A. Paterson to become the state’s next chief judge, said several sources who had been informed of the choice.
Mr. Paterson told Justice Lippman ( See Profile) yesterday afternoon that the governor would send the presiding justice’s name to the state Senate for confirmation, sources said. The governor plans to formally introduce Justice Lippman as his choice at a Capitol news conference today.
Justice Lippman would succeed Judith S. Kaye, 70, who stepped down last month due to mandatory retirement rules. Judge Kaye was the first female on the Court of Appeals and its longest-tenured chief judge ever with more than 15 years in the post.
For much of that time, she and Justice Lippman, 63, worked closely promoting the former chief judge’s agenda, including creation of more specialty courts and trying to make jury duty less onerous. Justice Lippman served as the state’s chief administrative judge from 1996 to 2007, the longest anyone has spent in that top job ( NYLJ, Oct. 9, 2007).
But the pair were unsuccessful in convincing state lawmakers to approve the first pay raise for state judges since 1999, a campaign Justice Lippman is certain to take up anew as chief. Judge Kaye’s 2008 suit to force the Legislature and governor to give the judges a raise is pending before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edward H. Lehner.
Judge Kaye said yesterday in an interview that she is “very, very pleased” and “very excited” by Mr. Paterson’s selection of Justice Lippman.
“I think the governor made a wonderful choice,” she said.
And while Justice Lippman would undoubtedly blaze his own trail as chief, Judge Kaye said she would be “fibbing” if she did not hope he would continue many of her policies and initiatives.
If confirmed, Justice Lippman would only be able to serve about half of a full, 14-year Court of Appeals term. He would be forced to step down at the end of 2015, the year in which he turns 70.
In addition to supervising the work of the seven-judge Court of Appeals, the chief judge oversees the work of the state’s Unified Court system, which has a $2.5 billion annual budget and more than 16,000 employees. The courts had more than 4.3 million new filings last year.
Justice Lippman’s long experience as chief administrative judge was thought to give him a leg up against the six other chief judge candidates proposed to Mr. Paterson by the Commission on Judicial Nomination.
At the First Department, Justice Lippman has been credited with a dramatic reduction in the time it takes to decide cases and in getting panels to issue rulings sooner in complex and long-delayed cases ( NYLJ, Sept. 25, 2008).
The other chief judge candidates forwarded to the governor by the Commission on Judicial Nomination were Court of Appeals Judges Theodore T. Jones Jr. and Eugene F. Pigott Jr., Second Department Justice Steven W. Fisher and private practitioners George F. Carpinello of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Albany, Evan A. Davis of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Peter L. Zimroth of Arnold & Porter.
Mr. Paterson immediately criticized the list when it was released early last month for its lack of diversity – only one of the nominees is black, Judge Jones, and no women made the list. Mr. Paterson’s aides said the governor was disappointed that the senior associate judge and only Hispanic on the Court, Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, did not make the final cut.
Mr. Paterson said he was “outraged” by the racial and gender composition of the list, but conceded he was prohibited by law from submitting a name to the Senate that was not forwarded to him by the panel. He also said it was unfair to the candidates who had gone through the commission’s screening and interview process to scrap the list and start a new search, even if it was legal ( NYLJ, Dec. 4).
Mr. Paterson asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to review the recruitment and screening procedures used by the commission and recommend ways to make the process more open and inclusive. The governor has yet to propose changes in the commission selection process.
Justice Lippman was appointed to the Court of Claims by then-Governor George Pataki in 1995, but he did not begin hearing cases until January 2006, when he was elected to the Supreme Court. He also served on the Appellate Term, which hears appeals of city and district court cases on Long Island and in suburban counties north of New York City, before being appointed by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer to the presiding judgeship of the First Department (NYLJ, May 24, 2007).
Justice Fisher, by contrast, has experience as a Supreme Court and Criminal Court judge dating back to 1983, while Judge Jones first joined the Supreme Court bench in 1990 and Judge Pigott first became a Supreme Court justice in 1997.
Judge Pigott joined the Court of Appeals in September 2006 and Judge Jones in February 2007. Judge Pigott also served as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.
Justice Lippman’s confirmation by the Senate is virtually certain. The Senate has never refused to confirm a gubernatorial nomination to the Court since the appointive system began in 1977.
Moreover, Justice Lippman, like Mr. Paterson, is a Democrat. And Democrats took control of the Senate by a 32-30 margin based on the November elections, the first time since 1965 they have enjoyed a Senate majority.
Justice Lippman also is a good friend of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, another Democrat, with whom he grew up on New York’s Lower East Side.
But the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, said yesterday he would not take up Justice Lippman’s confirmation until he holds hearings on the nomination commission’s selection process.
“For that committee not to put a woman on there, in this day and age, is atrocious,” Mr. Sampson said in an interview. “It is unacceptable, not only in my eyes, but in the eyes of all the people in the state of New York.”
Mr. Sampson said he would not seek to block Justice Lippman’s nomination, which he said Mr. Paterson had done constitutionally under the Court of Appeals’ selection process, but that his “first order of business” as committee chair would be to have hearings about the nomination commission’s work.
He said he would like to hold the hearings within two weeks.
Judge Ciparick, who has been acting chief judge since Jan. 1, will continue to lead the Court until the Senate confirms Judge Kaye’s successor.
Bernice K. Leber, the president of the New York State Bar Association, yesterday called Justice Lippman “a superb choice.”
As chief administrative judge, Ms. Leber said, he was “a skilled consensus builder with an innate ability to relate to legislators and the executive as well as judges and lawyers around the state.”
Through his ability to build consensus, Ms. Leber added, he was able to implement some of “Chief Judge Kaye’s boldest initiatives, including reform of lawyer advertising rules and expansion of the commercial courts.”
Ann B. Lesk, the president of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, said she hoped the current budget crunch would not hinder Justice Lippman’s agenda.
“Justice Lippman has worked diligently to improve the administration of justice in New York,” she said. “We hope that the New York state Legislature will provide the resources that are essential to allow New York’s courts to flourish under his leadership as chief judge.”
Oscar Chase, the co-director of the Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law, said Justice Lippman is “very smart” and “extremely hard working.”
Mr. Chase added, “He knows the court system and administrative structure as well as anyone in the state. In terms of administrative responsibilities of the office, Justice Lippman is the next best thing to a continuation of Chief Judge Kaye’s tenure.”
But Mr. Chase said Justice Lippman is “to some extent an unknown” in terms of his judicial philosophy considering his short time hearing cases.
“Based on my observation of his professional life, I am sure he will be a jurist sensitive to the needs of the people of this state and to the law he will be sworn to uphold,” said Mr. Chase.
Roberto Ramirez, a former assemblyman and president-elect of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, called Justice Lippman “a candidate of impeccable credentials and lifetime commitment and service to the judiciary and court system” but was nonetheless disappointed that the candidate list was not more diverse.
“It is unfortunate that what this process has shown is that there is a historical exclusion of women and Latinos when it comes to the so-called merit selection panel,” said Mr. Ramirez. “I believe that what happened this year is a call to reform the system.”
E. Leo Milonas, a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partner and former chief administrative judge, said Justice Lippman is the best candidate to take over as chief.
“There couldn’t be a better chief judge to replace Chief Judge Kaye,” he said. Justice Lippman is “extraordinarily qualified to take over the Court upon Chief Judge Kaye’s departure and not miss a beat.”
The chief judge makes $156,000 a year, $8,400 more than Justice Lippman made as chief administrative judge and now as presiding justice in the First Department.
If confirmed, he would become the first chief judge not elevated from within the Court since Alton Parker in 1898.
Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com Daniel Wise contributed to this report.