By SÍLE MOLONEY
Public defenders, The Legal Aid Society, released a statement on Monday, July 12, in response to an announcement by the New York State Court of Appeals chief judge, Janet DiFiore, that she will resign next month after seven years in the role. The public defenders are calling for a progressive-leaning judge to be appointed to the bench.
“The Legal Aid Society thanks Chief Judge Janet DiFiore for her years of public service and efforts to improve New York’s court system, bolster funding for civil legal services organizations, and for improving our clients’ access to justice,” an extract from the statement read . “We implore Gov. Kathy Hochul to now nominate a jurist to the New York State Court of Appeals who has served as a public defender, civil legal services attorney or both, and equally important, from the neighborhoods we serve, historically marginalized communities of color,” the statement continued .
Earlier this week, The New York Law Journal shared an extract from DiFiore’s resignation letter. “On August 31, 2022 I will step down as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York and move on to the next chapter in life deeply proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, and forever grateful to each of you for your commitment to excellence,” the letter reportedly read.
According to The New York Law Journal, DiFiore wrote that she set out to bring operational and decisional excellence to every level of the court system while leading the high court in developing a strong, predictable body of law to guide communities, the economy and the personal and professional lives of citizens.
As reported, DiFiore, recently oversaw the redistricting decision by the New York Court of Appeals which threw out the redrawn State senate and congressional district maps proposed by State Democrats and approved by the State legislature [with a Democratic majority] in early February, after the court deemed them unconstitutional. A court-appointed special master was instead tasked with redrawing alternate maps which were not “gerrymandered.” The revised maps were duly redrawn and it is on the basis of these maps that voters will cast their ballots in the upcoming August 23 State primaries.
As also reported, a separate successful legal challenge filed with the courts means the redrawn State assembly district maps, which were also approved by the State legislature in February 2022, will also finally be redrawn once again by a court-appointed special master, though not until 2024. Voters cast their ballots in the recent June 28 primary elections on the basis of the maps approved by the State legislature in February 2022.
In their July 12th statement, The Legal Aid Society went on to say that the absence of a public defender and civil legal services attorney on the New York State Court of Appeals created a tremendous gap of knowledge and experience, which they said was especially problematic given what they said were critical issues confronting the Court and the legal system as a whole.
“The public deserves a representative on the bench who is familiar with the struggles that our clients, Black and Latinx New Yorkers, are forced to endure every day,” the statement concluded. “We look forward to working with Albany lawmakers to ensure that an appointment reflecting these essential voices occurs.”
Though seen as a conservative, DiFiore‘s “State of Our Judiciary Address,” was supported by the Legal Aid Society in February. During the address, DiFiore called on Albany lawmakers to enact the New York State Office of Court Administration’s proposal to simplify and consolidate the court system.
— Frank G. Runyeon (@frankrunyeon) July 11, 2022
“US recognized by Chief Judge Janet DiFiorethe barriers to equal justice are extensive and systemic in nature, and we must take meaningful steps to correct what court officials themselves call a ‘second-class system of justice’ for low-income litigants of color,” representatives from the Legal Aid Society wrote at the time.
“We fully support Chief Judge Janet DiFiore‘s push to simplify and consolidate New York’s overly complicated and duplicative court system. Moreover, we fully support measures that would address the longstanding racial inequities that have affected our clients and all New Yorkers of color for far too long,” the statement continued.
It concluded, “We have an opportunity now to reform our courts and create a simple, modern, equitably-structured court system. Lastly, The Legal Aid Society calls on Albany to act immediately on the Chief Judge’s plan to codify these necessary changes into law.”
According to its representatives, The Legal Aid Society exists for one simple yet powerful reason: to ensure that New Yorkers are not denied their right to equal justice because of poverty. For 145 years, its officials say it has protected, defended, and advocated for those who have fought in silence for far too long.
Meanwhile, according to a report by Law360, DiFiore was allegedly under investigation by a State ethics watchdog when she resigned.
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