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Debate over state’s chief judge pick intensifies as supporters rally in New York

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

A week after Governor Kathy Hochul nominated state Supreme Court Presiding Justice Hector D. LaSalle to be chief judge of the Court of Appeals, 11 Democratic senators and a number of special interest groups and labor organizations issued a statement opposing the nomination and casting LaSalle as “anti-abortion, anti-union and anti-due process.”

These groups are calling on Hochul to reconsider the nomination and consider three other candidates instead. However, some court observers argue that this characterization of LaSalle is unfair and that the appellate court decisions cited by his opponents do not support these allegations.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said that the “trajectory” of the Court of Appeals, which has faced criticism from Democrats for being too conservative, needs to change. She noted that other senators, in addition to the 14 who have publicly opposed LaSalle, have told her they will not support a vote confirming him. Stewart-Cousins said that she met with LaSalle and had a “very pleasant conversation,” but that the numbers are not in his favor.

LaSalle’s opponents have cited a dissenting opinion issued by LaSalle in a case in which the appellate division ruled that police officers did not have probable cause to arrest a driver after two suspects in an armed robbery fled from officers and jumped into the vehicle. LaSalle’s dissent argued that the driver should have been charged with aiding and abetting the suspects. However, Albany Law School Professor Vincent M. Bonventre, who has analyzed the cases cited by LaSalle’s opponents, said that these decisions do not support the allegations that LaSalle is a pro-police jurist opposed to women’s rights or labor interests.