Justice Janet DiFiore, chief justice of the New York Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court – announced that she would be stepping down from the position in August of 2022.
This comes as lawmakers in Albany are hard at work to codify and consider stronger laws on guns and abortion, Measures currently at the heart of the national debate and whose legality could be determined by the New York State judiciary.
At the time of the July 11 announcement, DiFiore has not listed a definitive reason for her resignation, saying in an interview Monday morning that she would instead be focusing her work on pursuing other opportunities after her more than six year career on the court.
“Serving as the Chief Justice in the Court of Appeals and the State of New York has been a high honor and the greatest privilege of my professional life,” DiFiore said in her statement, potentially giving New York State Governor Kathy Hochul a vacancy to fill on the Court of Appeals
“… with our access to justice services expanded and more fully funded, it is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my professional life,” continued DiFiore in the statement.
DiFiore previously served as the former district attorney in Westchester County, and was nominated by former Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve the court in 2015.
“As Chief Justice, I set out to bring operational and decisional excellence to every level of our court system while leading the state’s high court in developing a strong, predictable body of law to guide our communities, our economy and the personal and professional lives of our citizenry.”
Although DiFiore is stepping down from her position as a public servant, she admitted she wasn’t sure what was in store next for her.
“I’ve made my contribution,” she said, to the New York Times on Monday. “What that is, at this very moment, I’m not certain.”
DiFiore also remarked on grateful she was for her opportunity to serve as Chief Justice, and also how she looked forward to the individual who will eventually take her place and continue to work towards justice just as she had.
“Excellent is a mindset, one that is now fully integrated into the fabric of the New York State Courts, leaving us well-prepared to meet the future justice need of every lawyer, litigant and court user who comes to our courthouse seeking fair and timely and effective justice services,” she said.
Some elected officials praised DiFiore for her work – especially during the hardship cause by the COVID-19 pandemic, and also highlighted the importance of a Court of Appeals that is more in touch with the needs of New Yorkers.
“The Chief Judge has led the court system through an extremely difficult period in its history and was responsible for many administrative reforms that will have a lasting impact, including the Excellence Initiative and acknowledging racial bias within the court system by commissioning the Jeh Johnson report,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Unfortunately, however, over the last several years, the Court of Appeals has become increasingly out of step with the needs and desires of New Yorkers on issues such as workers’ rights, criminal justice, and tenants’ rights. It’s time for a new direction in our judicial branch. As the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m resolute that the Chief Judge’s replacement must be a jurist who will lead our Court of Appeals in a much-needed course correction that uplifts the vulnerable and ensures equity and justice for all.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul also honored the DiFiore’s dedication to justice and to her career, paying special tribute to the Judge’s work during the pandemic.
“From the Westchester District Attorney’s Office to the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has dedicated her career to the people of New York,” said Gov. Hochul. “Chief Judge DiFiore’s leadership of our state court system – especially during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic – has been a critical asset. I thank Judge DiFiore for her years of service and look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Commission on Judicial Nomination as we work to appoint new leadership to the Court.”
The NYC Legal Aid Society – a non-profit legal aid provider – also acknowledged Justice DiFiore’s commitment to the court system and years of service, but also took the time to urge Gov. Hochul to quickly nominate a replacement jurist.
“We implore Governor 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 July 11 statement read. “The absence of a public defender and civil legal services attorney on the Court creates a tremendous gap of knowledge and experience, which is especially problematic given the critical issues confronting the Court and our 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.”
Last updated 7/11/2022 1:54 pm