ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday nominated Rowan D. Wilson, a Port Washington resident with extensive experience as a commercial litigator but none as a judge, to fill a vacancy on New York’s highest court.
If confirmed, Wilson, 56, would become the first Long Island resident on the state Court of Appeals in more than two decades. It also would mark the first time the seven-member court has had two African-Americans serving simultaneously.
Wilson hasn’t had judicial experience before — he’s been a private attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a large Manhattan law firm, for more than 30 years. But he has a long history in commercial law and the current judges on the court had little experience in that legal area, analysts had noted.
Cuomo cited Wilson’s “decades of experience in complex commercial litigation” in making the nomination. Wilson, who had been a finalist for the Court of Appeals five previous times, said he was humbled by the selection.
“My entire career has been dedicated to the pursuit of justice and there is no better place to continue those efforts than on the New York State Court of Appeals,” Wilson said in a statement.
Wilson has been a litigator handling antitrust, intellectual property and civil rights cases at Cravath since 1992, according to the New York Law Journal. He has been the firm’s partner in charge of supervising its pro bono work.
The lack of a judge with commercial experience “has been a constant refrain at the court for several years,” said Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor and longtime observer of the Court of Appeals.
“The court really has needed somebody with commercial litigation experience,” Bonventre said. “It makes him and his experience very different from the typical Court of Appeals judge.”
Bonventre noted that Wilson, in private practice, had represented some “really big names,” such as American Express and Time Warner. But most of Wilson’s experience appears to be in federal courts, not state courts, the analyst said.
Wilson, a Democrat, would have to be confirmed by the Republican-led State Senate, which has never blocked a Cuomo judicial nominee. However, the relationship between the governor and legislators is rockier now than it’s ever been in his previous six years in office. If approved, Wilson would serve a 14-year term.
Wilson would replace Eugene Pigott, the last nominee of Republican Gov. George Pataki. Pigott stepped down on Dec. 31, after hitting the Court of Appeals’ mandatory retirement age of 70. All the judges on the bench now are Cuomo appointees; only one, Michael Garcia, is a Republican.
The last Long Island resident on the court was Sol Wachtler, a Republican who served from 1985 to 1993.
Wilson was born in Pomona, California. He received an undergraduate degree and law degree from Harvard University.