U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco was sworn in Tuesday as a judge of the prestigious Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan — the first Eastern District court judge from Long Island in more than 30 years to join that higher court.
Bianco, 53, who has been a district court judge sitting at the federal courthouse in Central Islip since 2006, has presided over almost all the cases involving members of the MS-13 street gang. Most recently Bianco’s cases included that of MS-13 members accused of murdering two Brentwood High School teenagers, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, and other MS-13 members accused of murdering four young men in a Central Islip park. A number of defendants in those two cases face a potential federal death penalty.
A chilling and grisly threat on Bianco’s life because of his judgeship, however, did not come from the numerous convicted gang members he had sentenced to stiff jail terms, but from a Levittown man he sentenced to 15 years in 2012 in a $19 million coin fraud.
The Levittown man, Joseph Romano, was eventually sentenced to life in prison for attempting to hire a hit man to kill and decapitate Bianco and the federal prosecutor in the coin case, Lara Treinis Gatz. The hit man turned out to be an undercover Suffolk police officer.
Bianco had previously been head in Washington, D.C., of both the Justice Department’s national Counterterrorism, Fraud, and Appellate Sections, and the Capital Case Unit. Before that Bianco was the head of the Organized Crime and Terrorism Unit of the United States Attorney’s office in the Southern District in Manhattan.
In a letter to the U.S. Senate committee supporting Bianco’s nomination to the Second Circuit, Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time of the attack on the Twin Towers, wrote: “I watched as Judge Bianco strove to keep our nation safe in the aftermath of September 11, a job which he fulfilled with incredible ability and dedication.”
The Second Circuit and the D.C. Circuit, are often considered the most important federal courts below the Supreme Court. Circuit courts hear appeals, usually by three-judge panels, from cases before district courts. The Second Circuit includes New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Its judges hear most of its cases in Manhattan, but Bianco intends to keep his main chambers in the federal courthouse in Central Islip.
Judge Bianco “is the consummate judge — committed to public service — treating everyone with respect and empathy — a good and decent man,” said Todd Blanche, a former law clerk for Bianco and now partner in Caldwalader. Wickersham & Taft in New York City. Blanche, who was scheduled to be a main speaker, commented before the ceremony at the federal court house in Manhattan.
In example of Bianco’s character, Blanche said, the judge did not listen to his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, insisting instead on continuing to preside over an ongoing case so as not to inconvenience the participants, including the jurors. Bianco prohibits his former clerks from practicing before him.
Bianco is committed to instilling knowledge of the law, Blanche said, and has regularly taught classes at the law schools at St. John’s, Fordham, Hofstra, and Touro.
Bianco also runs an annual one-week program about the law at the federal courthouse in Central Islip for Long Island high school students.
The father of six, who serves as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Bianco graduated from Georgetown University in 1988 magna cum laude, and from Columbia Law School in 1991 where he was on the law review.
In his remarks at Tuesday's ceremony, Bianco said: "Although I've loved every day of my time as a district court judge, I look forward to this new challenge. I would say that it is a dream come true, except it is way beyond my wildest dreams."
Bianco was nominated by President Donald Trump without the support of New York’s Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and confirmed by the Republican controlled Senate.
In a sign of the increasing partisan divisiveness in judicial appointments, Republican have not allowed objections from home-state senators to block judicial nominations, which has been a traditional practice.
Schumer had introduced and supported Bianco’s nomination to the district court at his confirmation hearing to that court.
In his remarks, Bianco also said: "As you know the politicians are not exactly getting along in Washington, although I did manage to get two votes from Democratic senators, so I consider myself a bipartisan pick."
With Bianco’s elevation to the court, one-third, or five, of the 15 slots for District Court judges in the Eastern District are now vacant, according to officials. Four candidates have been named to fill four of the vacancies, and are awaiting Senate confirmation. No nominee has yet been named to fill Bianco's district court seat, officials said.