Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2007-01-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

On November 15, I testified at the first of three public hearings held by the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on the Judiciary to examine the selection process of State Supreme Court Justices. In January 2006, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, in Lopez-Torres v. NYS Board of Elections , found that New York's current judicial convention nomination system violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed his decision in August.

NYCLA believes that the public's respect for the judiciary is strengthened where the judicial selection process not only meets state and federal constitutional requirements but also limits political control of the selection process, expands the diversity of the bench, and ensures that the criteria for judicial service relate solely to qualifications and experience. For over 30 years, it has been NYCLA's position that those goals are best achieved through a commission-based appointive system for judicial selection, with clearly defined standards that focus on quality, integrity and independence.

In my testimony, I called for a constitutional amendment providing for such a system. This remedy was also proposed by Mark H. Alcott, New York State Bar Association president; Barry Kamins, New York City Bar Association president; and Victor A. Kovner, a former corporation counsel and current chairman of the Committee for Modern Courts.

The details of our position are described in NYCLA's May 2006 report, 'Judicial Selection in New York State: A Roadmap to Reform,' written by our Task Force on Judicial Selection, co-chaired by Rosalind S. Fink, NYCLA Past President, and Susan B. Lindenauer, NYCLA Board member. The Task Force was created in 2003 to make recommendations to the Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections (also known as the Feerick Commission, named for its chair, John D. Feerick, the former dean of Fordham Law School). The report detailed the selection and responsibilities of a Statewide Judicial Selection Commission that would supervise the functions of the District Judicial Selection Panels. The Commission would create a code of conduct for the Panel members, develop policies for judicial recruiting to aid in meeting the goal of judicial diversity and be given monitoring responsibilities that would include the power to remove panel members who do not comply with established codes and policies.

NYCLA's proposal would take at least three years to implement, but an estimated 41 Supreme Court seats will be up for election in 2007. Consequently, some immediate interim solution is needed. NYCLA believes that any interim solution, however, should include a strict sunset provision to prevent any short-term band aid from becoming a long-term solution to the current crisis.

NYCLA and a number of other bar associations throughout New York State urge the Legislature and our new Governor to act promptly on this matter. For those interested in reading my testimony and the Task Force on Judicial Selection's reports, log on to www.nycla.org and click on News & Publications.


Edwin David Robertson