ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, as governors before him, has plied a legal loophole that allows him to appoint judges to the little-known state Court of Claims, who are then immediately assigned to state Supreme Court sections statewide where they rule on criminal and civil cases.
Supporters of the maneuvering contend that it is necessary because of a worsening shortage of elected judges statewide — exacerbated by a 149-year-old limit on the number of judges established by the state constitution — that threatens the constitutional right to a speedy trial.
However, critics in and outside government argue that the loophole skirts another constitutional requirement — that Supreme Court judges be elected — and provides governors and legislative leaders with patronage jobs to dole out.
In addition, the process of appointing judges and sending them to State Supreme Courts to unfamiliar communities raises additional concerns, said Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has called for more judges of color.
“It does not result in representative judges being on the bench,” she said. The concern is compounded in racially diverse counties that could be served by an acting Supreme Court judge from another part of the state.
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