When Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Alan Scheinkman as the presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, on New Year’s Day, the governor was bucking tradition. It’s rare for the presiding justice to come from outside the appellate court.
But in a series of interviews since his selection, those who have worked with Scheinkman said they are sure he is ready for the challenge; they cited his administrative abilities, attention to detail, understanding of commercial law and judicial temperament. He will be replacing Randall Eng, who reached the mandatory retirement age in 2017.
At the same time as appointing Scheinkman, the governor selected Elizabeth Garry to become presiding justice of the Third Department. Garry, the first openly LGBTQ presiding justice in the state, takes over for Karen Peters, the first female presiding justice, who reached the mandatory retirement age in 2017.
Robert Haig, a partner at Kelley Drye & Warren who sits on the Commercial Division Advisory Council with Scheinkman, praised his ability to handle difficult and involved business matters.
“He has played a key role in the Commercial Division’s efforts to transform business litigation in New York state and to make New York a preferred venue for complex business disputes,” Haig said.
“He’s very smart and also very practical. He has a knack for getting to the heart of an issue. At the same time, he encourages a high level of dialogue and exchange with counsel on difficult legal issues,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer.
Scheinkman’s experience has been as a state Supreme Court justice and administrative judge. In addition to commercial matters, he has handled residential mortgage foreclosures and matrimonial trials. He also has served as an associate judge on the Appellate Term for the Ninth and Tenth Judicial districts and as Westchester County attorney.
Richard Edlin, vice chair of Greenberg Traurig, said he tried a very complicated case in front of Scheinkman.
“He has a wonderful judicial temperament. He’s fair to the lawyers. He hears them out. He’s firm but efficient,” he said. “I thought he was an outstanding trial judge and at the end of the day, the Appellate Division, because of its broad mandate, deals with a lot of trial-related issues. I think that his really extensive experience in complex trials will be something that will be really valuable in this court.”
Lawrence Marks, chief administrative judge of the state court system, praised Scheinkman’s managerial skills.
“Justice Scheinkman has been a highly successful administrative judge,” Marks said. “Under the excellence initiative program, his judicial district has been a leader in the state in addressing case backlogs and delays. That experience will serve him well in heading up our largest appellate department.”
Scott Mollen, a partner at Herrick Feinstein, noted that Scheinkman is an authority on the appellate court’s operation.
“He co-authored with professor David Siegel the second and third editions of the New York State Bar Association’s practitioner’s handbook to practice at the appellate level. I mention that particularly because he’s not coming from the Appellate Division directly,” he said. “He also played a key role in helping modernize and expand court facilities, which is important not only to people within the court system but to the public at large.”
When Scheinkman was asked his opinion on why the governor’s office chose him, he said he doesn’t know for sure but believes it was because of his administrative skills. ”What I’d like to think is I offer a proven record of managerial experience.”
Scheinkman said that despite his elevated position he will remain as chair of a task force that is studying changes to the state constitution. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has asked the panel to suggest ways to make the court system more efficient.
As the new presiding justice, he will definitely gain first-hand knowledge of at least one proposal before the task force: splitting up the Second Department, the largest appellate court in the country.
While Scheinkman would not elaborate on task force discussions, he made clear that nothing has been ruled out. “What I can say is that the charge to the task force from Judge DiFiore remains unchanged, which is to look at all possible constitutional amendments.”
Scheinkman is as enthusiastic about joining the court as his admirers are about his selection.
“I’ve always been impressed with the quality of the judges and their diligence and hard work and I look forward to working with these judges who have earned my respect and have earned the respect of the entire bar,” he said.