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No excuse for delay on NY chief judge

No excuse for delay on NY chief judge

If the state Senate operated with 29 percent fewer members and no single leader, would it really mat

If the state Senate operated with 29 percent fewer members and no single leader, would it really matter to the people of New York state?

With the Court of Appeals, it matters.

Yet the court is being allowed to operate without a chief judge and without a full contingent of judges because the state Senate has refused to fulfill its legal obligation to fill the top spot.

And as long as the court is allowed to limp along shorthanded and without a leader, justice in New York will suffer.

The Senate leadership deliberately missed the Jan. 1 deadline it had to vote on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's appointment of Westchester County District Attorney Janet Fiore as the new chief judge. And they appear to be in no hurry to do so.

The inexcusable inaction already has the potential to pose problems.

In addition to overseeing the Court of Appeals, the chief judge is responsible for administering the state's vast court system, preparing its complex budget and, perhaps most importantly, being a leader on judicial and law enforcement matters.

Outgoing Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman aggressively tackled such issues as wrongful convictions, fair representation for indigent criminal suspects, raising the state's age of criminal responsibility, pro bono service and grand jury reform.

Then there’s the impact of Senate inaction on the day-to-day operations of the court itself. In 2014, the high court handled 3,625 matters, including 235 appeals, 1,300 motions, and more than 2,000 requests for appeals in criminal cases.

Each judge has to review written and oral testimony and write opinions in cases they're assigned, in addition to reviewing and deciding on applications for motions, meeting in conference, and dealing with myriad other judicial matters.

The huge workload is a lot more manageable among seven people than fi ve. And they're already on the clock.

The court is scheduled to hear 11 cases this week, including a class-action suit involving insurance payments owed to individuals inappropriately strip-searched at the Rensselaer County Jail. Next week's court calendar features another 10 cases.

Because court decisions require four votes, each decision must receive an 80 percent majority opinion for passage. And without the other judges, those apearing before the court are deprived of that extra degree of expertise and perspective.

There was no reason for the Senate to delay the confirmation of the chief judge and plenty of reasons for it to act expeditiously.

Any further delay by the Senate represents a further abdication of its responsibility to serve the citizens of New York.

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