Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the New York State Court...

Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, announced she will step down next month. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Daily Point

Albany Dems very judgy on departing DiFiore

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s sudden announcement that she will leave next month drew uniquely acid remarks from within her party — some stemming from her majority opinion three months ago that struck down redistricting of congressional and State Senate maps by Democrats.

“Good riddance,” stated Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who represents Brooklyn and Queens. As chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, he holds a big stake in the House majority’s power hierarchy. Jeffries said in a statement that DiFiore “single handedly aided and abetted Republican attacks on the redistricting process in New York.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chamber’s deputy majority leader and a key player in redistricting, said DeFiore’s departure “allows for a necessary recalibration of our state’s highest court after a series of wrongheaded decisions,” which he said included law enforcement and corporate issues.

For some time, the redistricting case could be DiFiore’s best-remembered case, especially if the New York lines affect who wins the U.S. House majority in November. Reforms to the redistricting process, enacted in 2014, created a new bipartisan panel to submit lines to the legislature. After the panel deadlocked, the chambers returned to the old methods and drew their own lines.

The 4-3 majority on the top court ordered a special master to correct what it deemed to be a partisan gerrymander, and the revisions effectively give Republicans a better chance to pick up seats.

Without citing the redistricting case specifically, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted: “In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and now news of the New York Chief Judge stepping down, it is more important than ever that Governor Kathy Hochul nominates and the Senate confirms a progressive chief judge.”

Viewed through the political prism of those considered the party’s progressives, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed what they deem to be conservative appointees onto the court, including DiFiore, a former Westchester County district attorney.

The state’s commission on judicial nominations will evaluate applicants to replace DiFiore as chief judge. For Hochul, a subsequent selection for the top job, essentially leading the state’s judicial branch, would be her most important first-term appointment. Exactly how the timing works in terms of the November election remains a bit hazy.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Talking Point

Ex-peace officers seek exemptions in new no-carry zones

When the state recently moved to strengthen gun laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s sweeping decision on the topic, the new legislation barred possession of a firearm in sensitive locations such as public transit facilities, houses of worship and bars.

The law signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul specifically exempts retired police officers. But now retired peace officers — including former correction officers, court clerks, bay constables and hospital security — are calling on lawmakers to exempt them, too, at the same sensitive locations.

Lobbyist Bob Bishop of the firm Pitta Bishop & Del Giorno LLC told The Point on Monday that he has collected more than 3,000 signatures from peace-officer groups seeking this law enforcement exemption. It wasn’t explicitly included when the State Legislature acted with rare speed this month to impose the new rules. The state’s long-standing gun-permit system was struck down by the high court on June 23.

Current federal law allows qualified law enforcement officers, both current and retired, to carry concealed firearms in any U.S. jurisdiction, with the exception of sensitive areas.

The petition’s pitch goes: “Increasing the number of trained law enforcement individuals who are equipped to react to emergencies that may occur in these sensitive locations is vital in maintaining public safety.”

Separately, other aspects of the new state gun restrictions are expected to be challenged by Second Amendment activists — such as a requirement that a civilian’s social media postings may be considered in the issuance of permits.

Rather than resolve and clarify all the details of the state’s gun rules, the Supreme Court has opened the door to a multitude of debatable questions while new applications for permits flood government offices. The matter of retired peace officers is one of them.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Pencil Point

A problem of plenty

Credit: Caglecartoons.com/Monte Wolverton

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Final Point

Closing a Cuomo door between boards

With the state’s controversial 11-year-old ethics board formally out of business, and a newly structured one due to start up, the predecessors have relayed a bit of advice to the successors: Don’t let top state elected officials push you around.

That message can be culled from a report by the Hogan Lovells consulting company that members of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 10-1 to release during their final meeting on Thursday.

The report detailed how JCOPE mishandled ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $5 million book deal. Initially, the authorship was approved with certain conditions. Once a scandal exploded, the panel said Cuomo “misused the power and authority of his office to create, market and promote for enormous personal profit” a project that depended on Executive Chamber and other state staff to carry out.

But the report said the panel in hindsight was too passive in demanding conditions from Cuomo, although he and aides prepared much of the book and were talking with publishers before even seeking JCOPE’s opinion.

The report said members were less than blunt about its focus on COVID-19, still in crisis then, which potentially could have swayed the handling of state policy. Cuomo’s staff declined to share a copy of his contract with Penguin Random House.

Hogan Lovells called for the successor agency to create “mechanisms to make it more difficult for statewide elected officials to quickly push ethically questionable or problematic requests through the approval process.”

Several suggestions involve proper handling of what are called “outside activity requests” by state officials.

At one point in the process, mostly handled at a staff level, JCOPE member Jim Yates raised a salient complaint.

“I don’t understand why these things always seem to be on a rush basis,” he wrote in an email. “The Governor must have been contemplating and negotiating this deal for a period of time. Without opining on whether staff approval is right or wrong, I feel we are being ‘jammed’ on something that might require some thought and discussion.”

That sounds mildly prophetic, looking back. Looking ahead, we’ll see how the newly restructured board, which will have less former appointive power for Gov. Kathy Hochul, performs in difficult situations.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

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