Nine retired judges urged New York’s Democratic-run state Senate to confirm Hector LaSalle as the state’s next chief judge, after complaining he’s been the victim of a smear campaign by “woke members of the legal academy” and knee-jerk lawmakers.
The former judges, who served in the Appellate Division First Department, sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), objecting to snap opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nomination of LaSalle, who would become the first Hispanic chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.
“In a campaign to derail the selection of Appellate Division, Second Department Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle as the next Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, a coalition of woke members of the legal academy have spewed false and misleading accounts concerning Justice LaSalle’s record as a judge,” the judges said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.
“Some members of the Democratic majority in the State Senate that will vote on whether to confirm Justice LaSalle have unfortunately followed suit. The plain fact is that a fair and reasoned examination of Justice LaSalle’s judicial record will demonstrate that he is faithful to the rule of law.”
The signers of the letter include former Appellate Judges Richard Andrias, James Catterson, Leland DeGrasse, Luis Gonzalez, Michael Kavanagh, Bernard Malone, Jr., George Marlow, David Saxe and John Sweeny Jr.
The judges said that “Justice LaSalle meets that high bar and deserves to be confirmed as the next Chief Judge of the State of New York.”
The judges said critics have unfairly cited a few memorandum decisions that LaSalle signed to unfairly tar his overall record and judicial philosophy as a jurist.
“What they have come up with is faulty analysis and misstatements of what Justice LaSalle stands for based on an exceedingly small selection of the hundreds of memorandum decisions in which Justice LaSalle has joined,” the judges said.
They said the memorandum decisions are shorter and to the point and stick to relevant facts of the law because of a large caseload.
“If a detailed and painstaking reasoned decision was required for each appeal, the entire
appellate structure would come to a grinding halt,” the judges said.
“To read into these memorandum decisions broad philosophical viewpoints on subject areas such as abortion rights and labor union rights is as unfair as it is uninformed. They simply do not support conclusions about an individual judge’s philosophical bent.”
They said, of course, LaSalle, the presiding officer of the Appellate Division’s Second Department, should be asked about his signed opinions and core judicial philosophy during his Senate confirmation hearing, which is expected next week.
Meanwhile, former NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito said she’s outraged at her fellow progressive Democrats’ treatment of LaSalle.
“I will not stand in silence as a historic nomination of someone who is highly qualified is being thrown under the bus to make some sort of a political point,” Mark-Viverito said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.
She particularly said opponents misread a decision LaSalle signed in 2017 that focused on free speech and privacy, not abortion.
“That’s specifically not seen as an anti-reproductive health case. It is seen as a first amendment case,” she said, pushing back at LaSalle critics who claim the ruling regarding so-called pregnancy crisis center shows he is somehow against abortion.
Not true, Mark-Viverito said.
Hoylman, who will preside over LaSalle’s confirmation hearing, told The Post Tuesday night, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially former judges.”
He promised a fair hearing for Hochul’s nominee but did take issue with the retired judges’ downplaying the memorandum decisions involving LaSalle, calling those rulings “life changing litigation.”
Stewart Cousins, in a Gotham Gazette podcast interview last week, said Hochul’s LaSalle’s nomination was in trouble after meeting with the judge.
“We need to change the trajectory of the way the court here in New York State here is going,” the Senate majority leader said. “People have decided long ago that we were for someone who was not going to be part of the status quo.”
“I do not see this ending in the way the governor wished it would.”
Carl Campanile, Zach Williams