Gov. Andrew Cuomo has finalized his picks to fill two seats on the state Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York: Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Justice Anthony Cannataro, the administrative judge of the New York City Civil Court.
Those nominations will now go before the Judiciary Committee in the state Senate, which will then decide if they’ll get a full vote before the entire chamber. It’s likely that they will.
“New York state's courts deserve the best and brightest minds to uphold principles of law and fairness and move our state forward, and these judges are no exception," Cuomo said.
The name that’s likely to grab more headlines is Singas, a Democrat who’s served as the district attorney in Nassau County since 2015, when Rep. Kathleen Rice vacated the position. Singas was Rice’s top deputy in the office.
Singas is also not unfamiliar with state government. She was appointed by Cuomo three years ago to lead a criminal investigation into former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Schneiderman was accused by multiple women of physically assaulting them, both while they were intimate and otherwise. But, because of statutes of limitations and the way certain charges are defined in state law, Singas couldn’t build a case against him.
That led to a piece of legislation sponsored by former Assembly member Aravella Simotas, D-Queens, which would have created a charge of criminal sexual harassment in state law. While Singas supported the bill, it never passed.
Singas has served in various roles as a prosecutor over the last few decades, including more than a decade in the Queens District Attorney’s Office. She would replace Associate Judge Leslie Stein, who’s retiring next month.
If confirmed by the Senate, Singas would be the second judge on the Court of Appeals to join the court immediately after serving as a prosecutor. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore was the district attorney in Westchester County before her nomination by Cuomo in 2015.
And while Singas would come directly from a role involved in the criminal justice system, Cannataro is well-involved in the state’s civil courts.
Cannataro is currently the administrative judge of the New York City Civil Court, meaning he manages the non-criminal courts in the five boroughs. He was first elected to the state Supreme Court, the lowest level of court in New York, in 2012.
It wouldn’t be Cannataro’s first stint at the Court of Appeals. He clerked at the high court for three years until 2003, and then clerked at the state Supreme Court level until he was elected to serve on the bench.
Cannataro was selected to serve as the administrative judge of the New York City Civil Court in 2018 by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, who manages the state’s court system alongside DiFiore.
Cannataro would fill the seat held by Associate Judge Paul Feinman, who died shortly after retiring from the high court earlier this year.
Feinman was the first, and only, openly gay judge on the Court of Appeals. Cannataro, who is openly gay, would succeed him in that respect as well.
Both nominations are expected to stir more controversy in the state Legislature than usual.
It’s possible that the state Senate will hold an impeachment trial against Cuomo at some point this year. The Assembly is currently in the middle of an impeachment inquiry into Cuomo, and that could result in charges of impeachment.
Unlike the federal impeachment system, New York’s process requires judges who serve on the Court of Appeals to participate as voting members of the jury. That means anyone confirmed by the time of the trial will have a vote in Cuomo’s impeachment.
There are seven judges that serve on the Court of Appeals, and each jurist who currently sits on the high court was nominated by Cuomo.
The Senate has until the end of this year’s legislative session to consider the nominations. Session is scheduled to end on June 10.
Dan Clark is host/producer of New York Now.