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Singas court nomination triggers deadlines and political dominoes

Joyce Smith, Deputy ADA of Community Partnerships for

Joyce Smith, Deputy ADA of Community Partnerships for the Nassau County District Attorney, speaks about gun violence and gun control at a meeting of L.I. Muslims in Hempstead, N.Y. Saturday, March 3, 2018... Credit: David L. Pokress/David L. Pokress

ALBANY — If Madeline Singas is confirmed as a judge to New York’s highest court, it will trigger a number of political dominoes as well as a special election in November to replace her as Nassau County’s district attorney.

That is, as long as she’s confirmed fairly quickly.

Here's how the process is shaping up, according to interviews with legal experts and state officials.

Filing a vacancy

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, nominated Singas, also a Democrat, to replace Judge Leslie Stein, who is retiring from the state Court of Appeals, effective June 4.

(Also for the seven-member court, Cuomo nominated Anthony Cannataro, a New York City administrative judge, to replace Paul Feinman, who died earlier this year.)

If confirmed by the State Senate, Singas, 55, would be given a 14-year term. Confirmation is viewed as likely because Democrats form a majority in the Senate and there is no immediate large bloc of opposition to her.

Per a succession plan Singas filed with the county, Joyce Smith, currently an assistant district attorney, would take over the prosecutor’s office in an acting capacity.

Timing is crucial

"The magic date is Aug. 2," said John Ciampoli, a former state Board of Elections attorney and current part-time counsel to Senate Republicans.

So long as Singas is confirmed as a judge by the Senate, resigns as prosecutor and takes her new oath of office before Aug. 2, Nassau residents will be voting in a special election in November to replace her. That is because her resignation will have taken place more than 90 days before the next general Election Day.

The Senate is slated to be in session only through June 10, so time is tight for confirming not only Singas but also a raft of other judges nominated for various venues by Cuomo.

Nothing is set, but sources said the Senate could take the first step in the confirmation process on June 8 because it is a Tuesday, traditionally the day of the week when committees meet. The Judiciary Committee, which vets nominees, could vote to send the Singas nomination to the full Senate, which could then vote any following day.

The Senate Democratic conference expects to review Singas and other nominees next week, two sources said.

But if action is delayed and the Senate doesn’t confirm her before adjourning, things could get complicated.

If Singas doesn’t resign as DA prior to Aug. 2, then a special election to fill the office would have to wait till 2022.

An acting district attorney

Per Singas’ succession plan, Smith would take over immediately. She currently is executive assistant DA for the Community Relations Division. She oversees recruitment, immigrant affairs, victims’ services and other programs.

Cuomo could take no action in Nassau, leaving Smith in place. Or he could formally appoint an interim district attorney — Smith or someone else. That appointee would have a leg up in the special election by virtue of being in office for at least a few months and building up name recognition.

"I would hope the governor would consider appointing an acting" DA once SIngas is confirmed as judge, said Jay Jacobs, the state and Nassau County Democratic chairman and Cuomo ally, on Wednesday.

Jacobs said Nassau Democrats will put together a screening committee to vet potential candidates but said no set date has been determined.

Early names floated

Along with Smith, one of the first Democrats mentioned as a possible candidate is Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

Reached Wednesday, Halie Meyers, a Kaminsky aide, emailed a statement saying the senator is "focused on the current session in Albany and ensuring that Long Islanders get everything they need from the state to fully recover from COVID-19 and live in safe, healthy, prosperous communities."

On the Republican side, early names mentioned include Joy Watson, a current district court judge and former candidate for district attorney, and Joseph Nocella, Hempstead town attorney.

"We have not concentrated on it yet," Nassau County Republican chairman Joe Cairo said Wednesday. "If anybody tells you somebody is the front-runner, they haven’t talked to me."

That said, Cairo said he expects to hear from "several" potential candidates.

With Candice Ferrette and Bridget Murphy

State & Region