We applaud New York’s newly installed Governor Kathy Hochul for promptly correcting a situation in the New York’s court system that had many of us scratching our heads in disbelief. The governor has now returned three senior appellate judges to the appellate bench after they were summarily removed as part of a cost-cutting plan last year.
Returning the three jurists – Sheri Roman, Ellen Gesmer and David Friedman – with their vast experience and expertise, was not only in keeping with tradition, it was also clearly the right thing to do in light of the huge Corona-induced court backlog of thousands of cases. Yet Governor Cuomo failed to do it. What especially piqued our interest in the matter was the fact that all three of the judges are Jewish.
As we remarked here several months ago, the New York court system’s administrative board had announced that in order to save approximately $55 million it had decided to do away the with the services of 46 of New York’s most senior judges, including the aforementioned three appellate judges, the latter being elected as trial judges but who actually served on appellate courts via special appointment by the governor.
The austerity plan was to be implemented by the unprecedented wholesale rejection of applications filed by judges older than 70 for waivers of the court system’s 70 years of age retirement rule. Waivers are to be granted based upon – and we paraphrase the New York State Constitution – an evaluation of the judge’s mental competence and physical condition and whether a judge’s service is necessary for expediting the court’s business. In the past, waiver applications were rarely rejected.
No one has ever explained how so many judges suddenly became incompetent or physically impaired or unnecessary.
At all events – fast forward: After the infusion of federal funds the waivers were forthcoming and the judges could return. However, for the former appellate judges to return to the appellate bench and not be assigned to the trial courts, they would have to again be appointed to serve there by the governor. And Governor Cuomo broke with the tradition of reappointing appellate judges by not doing so in the months before he resigned.
Hon. Jeremy Weinstein, the former administrative judge of the Supreme Court, Queens County, Civil Term, and current director at the Jewish Bar Alliance, said that his group “felt very strongly about the reappointment of judges Roman, Gesmer and Friedman and we made our issues known to the governor and we are thrilled that she listened and acted.”