Hochul urged to diversify Court of Appeals

Originally published in Queens Daily Eagle on November 16, 2021.

A group of state lawmakers have issued a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul ahead of her appointment of a new Court of Appeals judge urging the selection of a candidate with a public defense background.

More than a dozen senators signed on to the letter issuing their support for Court of Appeals nominees Timothy Murphy and Corey Stoughton, both of whom have a background in public defense.

“Historically, the legal backgrounds of those who served in our state’s judicial branch have been rather similar, with many serving as prosecutors or corporate attorneys,” they wrote. “Attorneys who have worked on issues of indigent defense, housing, civil rights, and immigration, however, have a different perspective that can move our state forward in a way that represents all its people.”

“To have even one voice on the Court with such experiences can be monumental for New Yorkers in need,” the letter continues. “For too long, appointments to the judiciary have primarily served those who wield the most power. Now, you have a historic opportunity to alter that paradigm by choosing a judge with a demonstrated appreciation for the impact of the law on our state’s most vulnerable.”

The letter echoes a request issued by State Sens. Brad Hoylman and Michael Gianaris in October, calling for more diversity on the high court bench.

Gianaris urged Hochul to think creatively about the professional lives and lived experiences of the person she nominates to New York’s top court.”

“Court of Appeals judges must be defined by a lifetime of legal excellence, but that cannot be limited to people in just a few, select fields,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris. “For the Court to reflect the values of our entire state, its jurists should represent that excellence in different areas of the law and a commitment to serving others.

State Sens. Zellnor Myrie, Luis R. Sepúlveda, Neil D. Breslin, Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, Julia Salazar, Jabari Brisport, Rachel May, Gustavo Rivera and Jessica Ramos also signed on to the letter regarding the vacancy left by the impending retirement of Justice Eugene Fahey.

Murphy currently serves as an assistant federal public defender in the Appeals Unit of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of New York, and Stoughton serves as attorney-in-charge of Special Litigation and Law Reform at The Legal Aid Society.

"New York's judicial bench is stacked with former prosecutors, and I've seen firsthand in my tours of our jails and prisons what kind of results that has yielded,” Ramos said. “This short-list has the promise of getting a public defender - someone who has done the thankless work of advocating for and representing some of the most vulnerable among us - onto the Court of Appeals.”

Francesca Connolly, Erin Peradotto, Stan Pritzker, Shirley Troutman and Joanne Winslow are also on the short list. All of them currently serve as justices in the Appellate Division.

The Court of Appeals is currently composed of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judges Jenny Rivera, Michael J. Garcia, Rowan D. Wilson, Anthony Cannataro, Madeline Singas and Fahey.

Hochul has until Dec. 1 to make her recommendation. After she does, the State Senate will have 30 days from the date of the recommendation to confirm or reject the candidate.

This will be Hochul’s first nomination to the state’s highest court. All of the current justices were appointed by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.