On January 1, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed me, not just to join the Appellate Division, Second Department, but to lead it as Presiding Justice. I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence that the Governor has placed in me.
As the court’s newest member, I am adjusting to a new way of adjudicating cases. No longer will I be alone in controlling a calendar and a courtroom and acting as sole arbiter of requests for relief. My role now will be to approach cases from the perspective of a reviewing court and to work collaboratively with my new and highly distinguished colleagues to achieve a just result in each appeal that comes before us.
I will, of course, be sitting as an appellate judge, participating as often as the associate justices do. As a former appellate law clerk, long-time member of the State Bar’s Appellate Courts committee, and co-author (with the late, great David Siegel) of the State Bar’s handbook on Appellate Division practice, I am looking forward to hearing the challenging and important issues that counsel will be presenting.
Effectively and efficiently managing the operations of the court—a task of the Presiding Justice—is no small feat in a judicial department that not only has the largest population of the four departments, but is also the most diverse. The Second Department handles matters that arise in the urban environments of Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties, the suburban areas of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties, and the rural communities and farms of Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, and Putnam Counties. Our Department also has the largest compliment of Justices (currently 22), and unlike the Court of Appeals and other courts of last resort, our Justices do not sit as a single panel, but instead in separate and varying panels of four.
It is the responsibility of the Presiding Justice—with the assistance of the court’s clerk and deputy clerks, the staff of court attorneys in the court’s Law Department, and the staff of attorney editors in the court’s Decision Department—to ensure that the decisions rendered by these various panels are consistent with one another, such that the court is producing a uniform body of law. To help fulfill that function, the Presiding Justice, aided by senior staff, reviews a final draft version of every decision issued by the court, prior to publication. If, during that review, a question arises as to whether a particular decision may be inconsistent with other decisions of the court, the decision is withheld until the issue is resolved.
The work of a Presiding Justice additionally includes a great many administrative duties, which involve guiding and coordinating the operations of the court’s various departments and judicial chambers, not only at the Monroe Place courthouse and a nearby annex in Brooklyn Heights, but also in places throughout our geographically expansive Department.
Apart from the adjudicative work, the Presiding Justice is responsible for overseeing the operations of the court’s ancillary agencies and programs, including the Committees on Character and Fitness, the Attorney Grievance Committees, the Civil Appeals Management Program (CAMP), the Office of Attorneys for Children, and Mental Hygiene Legal Services. In addition to the administrative work within the court’s ambit, the Presiding Justice, together with the Chief Judge of the State and the Presiding Justices of the other three Departments, comprise the Administrative Board of the Courts, the body that establishes statewide administrative standards and policies.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that lies ahead of me in my capacity as Presiding Justice is to find ways for the Second Department to hear the cases brought before it in a timely fashion. The court is frequently referred to as the busiest intermediate appellate court in the United States. When the Appellate Division was created in 1894, it was divided into four judicial departments, with roughly equal populations. Today, however, the Second Department contains more than half of the population of the state of New York, and it is estimated that our court handles approximately 65 percent of the appeals filed at the Appellate Division level statewide. The court decides some 4,000 appeals per year, not to mention the thousands of motions made in these appeals. At present, the court hears 80 cases each week, not counting the dozen or so cases that appear each week on a submission calendar for appeals in which no oral argument is allowed.
Over time, due to factors beyond the court’s control, the time between the perfecting of an appeal and the date it appears on a calendar has grown. Delays at the appellate level delay the final disposition of the case and, where interlocutory appeals are involved, can cause cascading delays in the trial courts. Justice delayed is justice denied; behind each case are real people whose lives and well-being are bound up in the litigation. The time it takes for appeals to be heard must be reduced. But this cannot be achieved through shortcuts that would negatively affect the quality and integrity of our decision-making process. We must always bear in mind that in the overwhelming majority of cases coming before us, we are, as a practical matter, the court of last resort. The Appellate Division, Second Department, has a well-deserved reputation for carefully considering every case that comes before it. This is well known to the attorneys appearing for oral argument, who must always be prepared to answer probing, detailed questions from a very well-prepared Bench. I am deeply impressed by the dedication, diligence, hard work, and collegiality exhibited by the members of the court and its non-judicial personnel.
I will strive to have a productive and collegial relationship with the Bar. We can—and should—learn from each other and work together for the betterment of our system of justice. The court should foster a positive professional environment for the attorneys who practice before it and be responsive to comments and ideas for improvements from members of the Bar. Suggestions may be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; a link to that e-mail address appears on our court’s website (http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ad2/). I encourage members of the Bar to take advantage of this opportunity to have their opinions considered.
As Presiding Justice, it is my aspiration to never lose sight of the fact that our ultimate responsibility is to serve the people of the 10 counties of the Second Department. It is my goal to ensure that the court provides the public with fair and just results, and does so without undue delay. I look forward to working with my highly esteemed judicial colleagues, and the court’s diligent and dedicated non-judicial staff, and with the members of the Bar, in serving the people of the Second Department.