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Cuomo nominates Westchester DA to be NY's top judge

Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore in 2012.

Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore in 2012. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has nominated Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, a political ally, to become New York’s top judge.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said DiFiore brings “strong, balanced experience” to take over the seven-judge Court of Appeals. DiFiore, also a Democrat, served as Cuomo’s first executive director on the Joint Commission for Public Ethics.

DiFiore would replace Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is leaving the bench at the end of the year after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 for the Court of Appeals.

“She has served as both judge and prosecutor, and has spent her career working to ensure justice and fairness for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement. “She has led crucial reform efforts to make our judicial system both more effective and more efficient, and I am confident that she would continue this leadership on the Court of Appeals.”

The state Senate would have to confirm the nomination. If so, the seven-member court would feature four female judges, though not for the first time.

But it would be down to one Republican, Judge Eugene Pigott Jr., who will reach the mandatory retirement age next year.

One longtime Court of Appeals observer called DiFiore “terrific.”

“She really turned that office around, the Westchester County district attorney’s office,” said Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor. “She’s been one of the leading district attorneys looking at wrongful convictions and trying to make sure they don’t happen.”

Even Cuomo’s Republican adversary in last year’s gubernatorial election praised the choice.

“I have known Janet for many years and have worked closely with her on many issues and I know she’ll be an excellent judge and administrator for the New York court system,” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said in a statement. “I applaud the governor for choosing such a highly qualified individual as Janet DiFiore. New Yorkers will be well served.”

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