Paul Feinman
Judge Paul Feinman, right, is applauded at his swearing in by his fellow Court of Appeals judges and guests, including his husband Robert Ostergaard, left. (David Handschuh/NYLJ)

ALBANY—Paul Feinman on Wednesday was sworn in as an associate judge on the state’s highest court, making him the first openly gay member of the Court of Appeals.

Feinman, a former appellate justice in Manhattan, was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June to fill the vacancy left after the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam. Despite the packed courtroom and festive occasion, the events that led to the vacancy on the court were commemorated.

“Before we begin, we must remember that the vacancy that Judge Feinman fills today was not created with the normal passage of time, but with the sad passing of our friend, the Honorable Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a jurist known for the breath of her scholarship and her intellect as well as the warmth of her personality,” said Cuomo’s top counsel Alphonso David.

Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman to serve on the state Court of Appeals, was found floating in the Hudson River by upper Manhattan in April. Roughly three months after her death, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner deemed it was a suicide caused by drowning.

In his speech to the courtroom, David used the opportunity to discuss the national political unrest and the importance of the state’s judiciary.

“Although we gather here to celebrate this happy occasion, we gather here in a period of tumult and unrest politically, socially and culturally. Today we are often faced with paths of divisiveness and disruption, not collaboration and solutions,” David said.

“Our judiciary was built to help us navigate tumultuous times. When our ship is battered by storms of controversy, when waves of fear and anger and anxiety send us off course. When tides of emotion drives us from paths of reason, the Constitution of New York and the Constitution of the United states are the compasses that steer us forward,” David later added.

Feinman’s swearing was received with a standing ovation and several whistles from members of the crowd as he began his 14-year-term.

“I am, to use a very good English word, verklempt,” Feinman said, a Yiddish word meaning to become emotional.

During his speech, Feinman talked about the importance of the leaders in the LGBT community and judges that “forged the path” for him.

“Without them, this day would not have been possible,” Feinman said. “And from this I understand that I have an obligation to those who come after me. In the words of Hillel, ‘”If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?’ Hillel’s meaning was simple: Embrace the part of ourselves that make us unique, speak with our genuine voice, engage with society and on behalf of others and as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, never forget the ‘fierce urgency of now.’”