Judicial-Nomination Reformers Question First Reform Measure

ALBANY—Even before Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was confirmed last week, the State Senate held hearings about reforming the process by which nominations to the Court of Appeals happen.

And now there's a bill kicking around, introduced by Assemblyman Rory Lancman and supported by State Senator John Sampson, which would require the Commission on Judicial Nomination to forward along "all well-qualified" applicants to the governor for nominating, getting away from what Lancman said was the "arbitrary" number of seven. But the measure advances without the support of several key legal groups.

Bernice Leber, president of the New York State Bar Association and an attorney at the firm of Arent Fox, said there were "very serious problems" with the bill, and wrote Lancman a letter after he and Sampson unveiled the bill at a press conference. (Video below)

"Rather than hastily reform laws in ways that could be challenged, which no one wants to see, it is critically important that adequate time be given for review and comment by the public, the State Bar and other good government groups," Leber wrote.

"It actually doesn't make any sense at all," said Dennis Hawkins, executive director of the Fund for Modern Courts. "As written, it will not necessarily increase the number of people who are referred to the governor. As written, it says the commission should pass on all well-qualified individuals. They could pass on one name, instead of seven."

Lancman's bill is currently being reviewed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and several other senators raised concerns about judicial nominating when the process to replace Judith Kaye got underway. Speaker Sheldon Silver remained mum, and according to a spokesman does not have a position on the Lancman bill.

Lancman said the bill is a start, and he looked forward to working with all interested parties moving forward.

State Lawmakers Unveil Legislation Reforming Court Of Appeals Nomination System from NYAD25 on Vimeo.