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Progressives seek to block Singas' nomination to state's highest court

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in 2020.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in 2020. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

ALBANY — Progressive activists have mounted an effort to persuade the State Senate to block the nomination of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to New York’s highest court.

For now, her nomination is still moving forward.

Singas’ opponents launched a website and a Twitter campaign to persuade senators not to appoint another prosecutor to the state Court of Appeals. Led by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a former Westchester County district attorney, the court increasingly has delivered far more victories for prosecutors than defense attorneys over the last decade.

Singas’ opponents said the addition of another prosecutor to the seven-member bench would "undo years of criminal justice reform and reverse victories for tenants and workers."

Among other complaints, they note Singas originally opposed major changes to bail and discovery laws made in 2019 — although she supported the law after modifications were made in 2020 — and has never been a judge or represented criminal defendants. They say she has, as a prosecutor, often sought harsh and punitive sentences.

Some also note she’s been an ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who nominated her. And with the governor facing possible impeachment, the Court of Appeals could sit with the State Senate in an impeachment trial to determine Cuomo’s fate.

"The need for a progressive New York court is imperative," especially given the conservative tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote Steven Zeidman, a law professor at the City University of New York and a former defense attorney, in an essay on Slate.com.

Citing statistics showing the Court of Appeals generally is taking up fewer criminal appeals, Zeidman added: "It is Cuomo’s court, and if he will not fix it, then the new majority-Democratic Senate must flex its power to deny confirmation to his nominees until he does."

Peter F. Martin, a lawyer and a volunteer with the New York City Democratic Socialists of America who has called for the Senate to reject Singas, said the campaign isn’t being organized by any single organization but rather is "pulled together" by people concerned about the nomination.

Democrats, who control 43 of the 63 Senate seats, were expected to discuss the Singas nomination in a closed-door meeting this week. Officials have told Newsday the Senate could vote on the nomination on June 9, one day before the scheduled end of the 2021 session of the State Legislature.

Singas allies have said the "regressive" label is off base.

"There are prosecutors and there are prosecutors, and I can say Maddie has been the most progressive prosecutor Nassau County has ever had," said Oscar Michelen, a veteran civil and criminal defense lawyer based in Mineola.

Michelen said Singas established outreach efforts with immigrants as well as other minority communities, and often steered defendants to drug treatment and mental health court venues when warranted.

"Show me where she’s been regressive," Michelen said. "I don’t see her calling for draconian sentences. I don’t see her calling for over-policing neighborhoods. I don’t see her talking down to groups."

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