How a Chief Judge Gets Picked

ALBANY—There’s less than a week left before David Paterson is required to make his pick for chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and despite making noise earlier about seeking options for a new slate of candidates (he was upset there are no women on the current list) said last Friday that he would interview and appoint someone according to the process.

Errol Cockfield, a spokesman for the governor, confirmed Paterson began interviewing candidates Monday, between stints studying for the State of the State speech.

Observers have placed their bets on Theodore Jones, an associate judge on the Court now, and Jonathan Lippman, currently the chief administrative judge.

There were louder-than-normal cheers for Jones Wednesday when he was introduced by Paterson at the beginning of his State of the State address. If Jones were elevated, Paterson would be able to appoint someone to his seat, having already made his point about wanting women on the court. Also, every chief judge for over 100 years has served as an associate justice and Jones would be the first African-American to hold the post.

But Lippman comes with political connections. Three Assembly sources said that Speaker Sheldon Silver is pulling for him to get the chief’s slot, in addition to pull from retired Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

When asked, Silver’s spokesman Dan Weiller said that Silver “grew up with Jonathan Lippman, and Lippman is an old friend.”

Paterson needs Silver’s support as he works to bridge a $15.4 billion budget deficit. One of the cases made for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to be appointed to the U.S. Senate (even though he hasn’t publicly said he wants the seat) is that a joint session of the legislature would choose his replacement. Since Silver’s conference is large enough to dominate that body, Paterson could throw him quite a bone by appointing Cuomo.

If Paterson were to appoint Kennedy (Silver originally was down on the idea, then came around) he could placate Silver by elevating Lippman.

Meanwhile, after starting an e-mail chain in which law professors poked holes in the process of bar association rankings, longtime Court of Appeals junkie Vin Bonventre released his own rankings of the candidates. All are pretty warm and fuzzy.

How a Chief Judge Gets Picked