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Judge nominee Janet DiFiore praised, not blamed for JCOPE woe

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, a former

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, a former chair of the now defunct state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, seen here on May 31, 2012, has been nominated to head the New York State court system. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Janet DiFiore, nominated to become New York’s next chief judge, was the original chairwoman of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s much-maligned ethics commission. But a former member of the commission doesn’t blame DiFiore for its problems.

Ravi Batra, who resigned from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics citing its lack of independence from Cuomo, praised DiFiore’s stewardship of the panel.

“The lack of independence was not a Janet DiFiore problem. It was a JCOPE staff problem,” said Batra, who resigned from the panel in 2012. He said he had no worries that DiFiore, if confirmed as Chief Judge of New York, would be independent of the governor. DiFiore is currently serving as Westchester County district attorney.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider DiFiore’s nomination by Cuomo Wednesday afternoon. Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) said recently he’s “concerned about her relationship and friendship” with the governor.

Batra, an attorney, said he’s known DiFiore in her role as prosecutor, judge and head of JCOPE, and that she’s a good pick to the lead the state court system and head the seven-member Court of Appeals.

“She allows allowed disparate and divergent views to be aired in public and in executive session,” Batra said, referring to closed-door JCOPE meetings. “Sometimes, my motions at JCOPE didn’t win. But as chair, she always gave me my chance to voice my view.”

Batra said DiFiore gave him a “fair shake” at JCOPE.

“She was critical in the birthing of a difficult organization,” Batra said. “It was not an easy thing to do.”

Batra was highly critical of JCOPE during his tenure on the commission. Most prominently, he was alone in fighting to force the Committee to Save New York -- a deep-pocketed business coalition that was a key Cuomo backer during his first two years in office -- to disclose its donors. Batra lost that battle.

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