Top, L-R: Justices Kapnick and Duffy, Bottom: Justices LaSalle and Maltese
Top, L-R: Justices Kapnick and Duffy, Bottom: Justices LaSalle and Maltese ()

ALBANY – New York state’s mid-level appeals court, struggling with a judicial vacancy rate of 23 percent, finally got some help on Friday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo filled four of the 15 openings statewide with appointments to the Appellate Division’s downstate departments.

The seats were the first appellate court vacancies that the governor has filled in more than a year.

In the First Department, which was down three of its 20 judges, Cuomo appointed Supreme Court Justice Barbara R. Kapnick of Manhattan. In the Second Department, in which five of the 22 positions were vacant, he elevated justices Colleen Duffy of Westchester, Hector D. LaSalle of Suffolk County and Joseph J. Maltese of Staten Island.

Cuomo has yet to fill 11 other vacancies and did not appoint any new judges to the upstate departments. Officials said additional appointments are pending.

All four Appellate Division departments have been operating shorthanded. The Third Department, a busy upstate court which, because of its location in the capital, hears a large volume of appeals involving the state and its agencies, is particularly stressed with a 42 percent vacancy rate. One of the five vacant positions has been open for more than two years.

For the past several months, Presiding Justice Karen Peters has been assigning four-judge rather than five-judge panels, which occasionally results in a tie vote and the odd situation in which the case is ultimately decided by a vouched-in judge who was not present for oral arguments (NYLJ, Dec. 13). More recently, Peters cut a session out of the January calendar.

Cuomo said in a statement that the new appellate judges “bring to the courts wide-ranging and distinguished careers exhibiting years of legal experience and sound judgment.”

Kapnick, 60, was elected to Supreme Court in 2001 and assigned to the Commercial Division in 2008. A graduate of Barnard College, where she majored in English, and Boston University School of Law, she clerked for two Supreme Court justices. She was elected to New York City Civil Court in 1992.

Kapnick is currently president of the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the City of New York and has been a member of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics since 2008.

Duffy, a former litigation associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and assistant general counsel for Unilever United States, began her judicial career in 1998 when she was appointed to a Mount Vernon City Court post, a position to which she was elected the following year.

Duffy, 53, was appointed an acting Family Court judge in 2003 and won election to a full term in 2005. She was appointed to Supreme Court in 2010 and was subsequently elected.

A former Mount Vernon councilwoman, Duffy has a degree in English and communication arts from the College of New Rochelle School of Arts & Sciences, a master’s degree in international public relations and public affairs from Boston University and a law degree from New York University School of Law.

LaSalle, 45, is a former Suffolk County prosecutor, assistant attorney general and associate with the Mineola firm of Ruskin, Moscou, Faltischeck. Prior to his 2008 election to Supreme Court, LaSalle was lead gang prosecutor and deputy bureau chief of the special investigations bureau in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. He has served on the Appellate Term for the 9th and 10th judicial districts since 2012.

LaSalle has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State University and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law.

Maltese, who was elected to a Staten Island Supreme Court position in 2011, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and government from John Jay College, a law degree from New York Law School and master’s degrees from New York University, the University of Nevada and Touro College.

Early in his legal career, Maltese clerked for a judge and worked as an attorney with the Second Department’s Mental Hygiene Legal Services unit. He was in private practice in New York and New Jersey for 15 years before returning to the public sector.

The 65-year-old jurist has been on the bench since his 1991 election to the New York City Civil Court. He was appointed the following year to Criminal Court and was later named to a Court of Claims position, serving as an acting Supreme Court justice until his election.

Maltese spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, including service as a member of the JAG Corps and as a military judge for the U.S. Army Trial Judiciary. He is currently an adjunct law professor at New York Law School and a faculty member of the National Judicial College.

The appointments, which do not require Senate confirmation, are effective immediately. With their promotions, the new appellate judges will get a $9,000 raise. Appellate Division justices are paid $176,000 while their colleagues on the trial court make $167,000 annually.

Maltese is a Republican. The other three appointees are, like the governor, Democrats.