The Court of Appeals is hearing more civil and criminal...

The Court of Appeals is hearing more civil and criminal cases since Rowan Wilson became the state's new chief judge. Credit: State of New York/Court of Appeals

ALBANY — Less than a year in, a progressive new chief judge is making an impact on New York’s third branch of government.

The caseload has increased dramatically at the Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, under Chief Judge Rowan Wilson. The seven-judge panel is hearing far more civil and criminal cases than under his predecessor — a trend even a leading Republican applauded.

Outcomes in some notable cases have favored liberals. The court ordered a new round of congressional redistricting, backed workers’ rights and upheld a new speedy trial law.

State legislators say the court system has been more transparent and cooperative in its funding requests.

Though the sample size is very small, analysts and lawmakers say the change is noticeable since Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Wilson and the Democratic-led State Senate confirmed him — after defeating an earlier Hochul nominee, Hector LaSalle, as too conservative, to lead the court.

“If the Democrats and Hochul wanted a different court, they got it,” said Vincent Bonventre, a professor at the Albany Law School of Union University.

“I do think you’re seeing a change in the direction of the court,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wilson, 63, became chief judge in April, moving up from associate judge and succeeding Janet DiFiore, who retired in August 2022. Anthony Cannataro, an associate judge on the Court of Appeals, had served as interim chief.

DiFiore shifted the court in a conservative direction during her six-year tenure. Not only did prosecutors win a higher percentage of criminal cases than in the past, but also businesses and governments won a high percentage of civil cases. Many high-profile cases ended in 4-3 decisions, with DiFiore leading the conservative bloc and Wilson and Judge Jenny Rivera the liberal wing.

In addition, the court’s workload dropped dramatically as it often refused to hear cases once they were decided by a midlevel court. Under DiFiore, the court often heard fewer than 100 cases per year; under her predecessor, Jonathan Lippman, it was well over 200.

Now, the workload is rising under Wilson.

Bonventre said that during Wilson’s first four months, the court handled 51 cases. The court heard 35 over an equivalent period when Cannataro was acting chief.

“That’s a 45% increase. That’s big,” Bonventre said. “Instead of [hearing cases] on two or three days a month and handling three cases a day, it’s three or four days a month and five cases a day.”

Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has criticized some case decisions by the Wilson court, but applauded the court’s willingness to increase its workload.

“I think the fact that they’re hearing more cases is good — I like that,” Palumbo, an attorney himself, said. He said the low volume had been a concern regardless of political party.

“I think that’s a concern for anyone. I think everyone wants their day in court,” he said. He also praised Wilson for pushing to increase the number of Family Court judges.

Palumbo and Republicans were extremely critical of the Wilson court’s highest-profile ruling — a 4-3 decision ordering the redrawing of New York’s congressional districts.

The GOP called it a partisan decision to help Democrats. The majority, led by Wilson, said a previous congressional map — drawn in 2022 by a court-ordered “special master” — was a short-term fix for the pending election and that a new one should be configured by the state’s redistricting commission and State Legislature.

Among other cases, in People v. Debellis, a 4-3 decision granted the defendant a new trial because of ineffective counsel. In People v. Cerda, the court, 5-2, overturned a conviction and ordered a new trial because it said the trial judge misapplied the state’s rape shield law to the detriment of the defense.

“These cases are divided because they’re really tough,” Bonventre said. “And when they’re really close, right now they’re siding more with the rights of the accused.”

In an otherwise low-level harassment matter in St. Lawrence County, prosecutors initially said they’d met new “discovery” requirements by turning over all the available evidence to the defense in a timely fashion.

Later, when they admitted they hadn’t, the case was delayed and the defense moved to dismiss the charge on speedy trial grounds. Prosecutors contended the error didn’t impact the substance of the case.

In January, the Court of Appeals unanimously said prosecutors missed opportunities to correct the error along the way and dismissed the charge. It was the first test of the new discovery law at the state’s highest court.

While not addressing the particular case, Palumbo said he’s concerned about “technical violations” of discovery laws having “devastating effects” on the prosecution of more serious crimes.

In contrast, Hoylman-Sigal said: “I think this is a court that is going to respect the rights of New Yorkers.”

He said there were other subtle changes, signaling an improved working relationship within the legislative branch.

For instance, he said the judiciary branch presented a more-detailed funding request to the State Legislature this year with specific initiatives rather than asking for a blanket allotment. In turn, legislators have been “very positive” about earmarking money to fix courthouses, expand Family Court and increase the number of judges.

Said Hoylman-Sigal: “We’ve hit the refresh button.”

ALBANY — Less than a year in, a progressive new chief judge is making an impact on New York’s third branch of government.

The caseload has increased dramatically at the Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, under Chief Judge Rowan Wilson. The seven-judge panel is hearing far more civil and criminal cases than under his predecessor — a trend even a leading Republican applauded.

Outcomes in some notable cases have favored liberals. The court ordered a new round of congressional redistricting, backed workers’ rights and upheld a new speedy trial law.

State legislators say the court system has been more transparent and cooperative in its funding requests.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Court of Appeals' caseload has increased dramatically under Chief Judge Rowan Wilson.
  • The seven-judge panel is hearing far more civil and criminal cases than under his predecessor.
  • State legislators say the court system also has been more transparent and cooperative in its funding requests.

Though the sample size is very small, analysts and lawmakers say the change is noticeable since Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Wilson and the Democratic-led State Senate confirmed him — after defeating an earlier Hochul nominee, Hector LaSalle, as too conservative, to lead the court.

“If the Democrats and Hochul wanted a different court, they got it,” said Vincent Bonventre, a professor at the Albany Law School of Union University.

“I do think you’re seeing a change in the direction of the court,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wilson, 63, became chief judge in April, moving up from associate judge and succeeding Janet DiFiore, who retired in August 2022. Anthony Cannataro, an associate judge on the Court of Appeals, had served as interim chief.

DiFiore shifted the court in a conservative direction during her six-year tenure. Not only did prosecutors win a higher percentage of criminal cases than in the past, but also businesses and governments won a high percentage of civil cases. Many high-profile cases ended in 4-3 decisions, with DiFiore leading the conservative bloc and Wilson and Judge Jenny Rivera the liberal wing.

In addition, the court’s workload dropped dramatically as it often refused to hear cases once they were decided by a midlevel court. Under DiFiore, the court often heard fewer than 100 cases per year; under her predecessor, Jonathan Lippman, it was well over 200.

Now, the workload is rising under Wilson.

Bonventre said that during Wilson’s first four months, the court handled 51 cases. The court heard 35 over an equivalent period when Cannataro was acting chief.

“That’s a 45% increase. That’s big,” Bonventre said. “Instead of [hearing cases] on two or three days a month and handling three cases a day, it’s three or four days a month and five cases a day.”

Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has criticized some case decisions by the Wilson court, but applauded the court’s willingness to increase its workload.

“I think the fact that they’re hearing more cases is good — I like that,” Palumbo, an attorney himself, said. He said the low volume had been a concern regardless of political party.

“I think that’s a concern for anyone. I think everyone wants their day in court,” he said. He also praised Wilson for pushing to increase the number of Family Court judges.

Palumbo and Republicans were extremely critical of the Wilson court’s highest-profile ruling — a 4-3 decision ordering the redrawing of New York’s congressional districts.

The GOP called it a partisan decision to help Democrats. The majority, led by Wilson, said a previous congressional map — drawn in 2022 by a court-ordered “special master” — was a short-term fix for the pending election and that a new one should be configured by the state’s redistricting commission and State Legislature.

Among other cases, in People v. Debellis, a 4-3 decision granted the defendant a new trial because of ineffective counsel. In People v. Cerda, the court, 5-2, overturned a conviction and ordered a new trial because it said the trial judge misapplied the state’s rape shield law to the detriment of the defense.

“These cases are divided because they’re really tough,” Bonventre said. “And when they’re really close, right now they’re siding more with the rights of the accused.”

In an otherwise low-level harassment matter in St. Lawrence County, prosecutors initially said they’d met new “discovery” requirements by turning over all the available evidence to the defense in a timely fashion.

Later, when they admitted they hadn’t, the case was delayed and the defense moved to dismiss the charge on speedy trial grounds. Prosecutors contended the error didn’t impact the substance of the case.

In January, the Court of Appeals unanimously said prosecutors missed opportunities to correct the error along the way and dismissed the charge. It was the first test of the new discovery law at the state’s highest court.

While not addressing the particular case, Palumbo said he’s concerned about “technical violations” of discovery laws having “devastating effects” on the prosecution of more serious crimes.

In contrast, Hoylman-Sigal said: “I think this is a court that is going to respect the rights of New Yorkers.”

He said there were other subtle changes, signaling an improved working relationship within the legislative branch.

For instance, he said the judiciary branch presented a more-detailed funding request to the State Legislature this year with specific initiatives rather than asking for a blanket allotment. In turn, legislators have been “very positive” about earmarking money to fix courthouses, expand Family Court and increase the number of judges.

Said Hoylman-Sigal: “We’ve hit the refresh button.”

People on Long Island share their thoughts on President Joe Biden's decision to drop out of the 2024 election and the possibility of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the Democratic nominee. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez; Jeff Bachner; File Footage

'I think it's the best for the country' People on Long Island share their thoughts on President Joe Biden's decision to drop out of the 2024 election and the possibility of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the Democratic nominee.

People on Long Island share their thoughts on President Joe Biden's decision to drop out of the 2024 election and the possibility of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the Democratic nominee. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez; Jeff Bachner; File Footage

'I think it's the best for the country' People on Long Island share their thoughts on President Joe Biden's decision to drop out of the 2024 election and the possibility of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the Democratic nominee.

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