The New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.

The New York State Court of Appeals in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY – Gov. Kathy Hochul has a new shortlist of chief judge finalists – one almost completely devoid of ex-prosecutors.

Hochul on Friday received a list of seven candidates advanced by a judicial screening commission, as per the state process for filling seats on the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

Analysts called it an “impressive” and “blockbuster” slate based on the candidates’ backgrounds.

But they also acknowledged the list is noticeably different from the one Hochul was given last fall when she nominated Hector LaSalle and suffered an unprecedented political defeat when the Democratic-led State Senate voted him down in February.

One of the general Senate complaints about LaSalle was he was an ex-prosecutor and the Court of Appeals already had plenty of those. Some senators and others also criticized LaSalle’s rulings in some key union- and abortion-rights cases as too conservative.

The new list has just one candidate with any extended prosecutorial experience: Shirley Troutman, who already is a judge on the Court of Appeals.

“The list does seem consistent with that seeming demand of some Senate Democrats, although, of course, I don’t know for sure whether that was a conscious choice on the nominating commission’s part,” wrote Brian D. Ginsberg, a partner at the Harris Beach law firm, in an email.

That said, Ginsberg said the judicial commission advanced a “stellar field of candidates, both in terms of lawyerly/judicial acumen and in terms of leadership bona fides.”

Troutman is one of three sitting Court of Appeals judges on the list, along with Rowan D. Wilson and Acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro. A Capitol source said Friday Wilson is the early frontrunner for the chief judge spot. If selected, he would be the first Black chief judge in state history.

The other candidates include two judges who run mid-level appellate courts in the state, Elizabeth Garry and Gerald Whalen, and two lawyers who have been Court of Appeals finalists previously, Corey Stoughton of the Legal Aid Society and Caitlin Halligan, the state’s former solicitor general.

Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor and longtime court analyst, called it a “blockbuster list” with seven strong candidates. But he said two of them stand out.

“If the governor is serious that she wants to increase the prestige of the court, as she has said, there’s a couple of leading candidates on this list: Rowan Wilson and Caitlin Halligan,” Bonventre said. “They are phenomenal lawyers and the liberals would love them. You would really be changing the direction of the court.”

Wilson has served on the Court of Appeals since 2017. Halligan, a prominent New York lawyer, has been a court finalist multiple times and had been nominated for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit only to be blocked by Republican senators.

Hochul has up to 30 days to nominate someone from the list of seven. The Senate would then have 30 days to confirm or reject, meaning the process should be finished by Memorial Day at the latest.

Though Cannataro has been serving in an interim role, the court hasn't had a permanent chief judge since Janet DiFiore stepped down in August. With just six judges, the court has had a rise in deadlocked (3-3) cases

During the tenure of DiFiore, an ex-Westchester County district attorney, the court moved in a more conservative direction in civil and criminal cases and allowed far fewer cases to reach New York's top bench -- prompting complaints from some Senate Democrats.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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