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Finding top candidates for our state’s top court

August 7, 2012
By Judith S. Kaye

This is an especially important time in the life of the state's highest court, the seven-member Court of Appeals of the state of New York.

On Dec. 31, Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick will retire from the court, having served with distinction for the past 18 years. Those of us who have worked alongside Judge Ciparick, or have been the beneficiary of her intellect, dedication and compassion, know that she will be sorely missed.

Our state Constitution sets out an excellent process for filling this vacancy, beginning with a 12-member Commission on Judicial Nomination appointed by all three branches of government. The commission is charged with submitting to the governor a list of up to seven candidates from which he will choose Judge Ciparick's successor. I write as chair of that commission.

Our Constitution requires the commission to put before the governor candidates - New York lawyers for a minimum of 10 years - who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to serve on the Court of Appeals. The commission additionally is committed to considering nominees who reflect New York's citizenry including diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nature of legal practice and geography.

Stating the objective is easy. Filling it is far harder, and that's why I am writing. While I believe that we have a Court of Appeals all New Yorkers can take pride in, what has regrettably followed recent appointments are complaints that too few candidates applied, that our outreach was not sufficiently broad, that people made assumptions about whom the ultimate candidate appointee would be and just didn't bother applying.

We don't want that to happen. The commission's message I am pleased to convey is that there are no preconceptions as to who will be on the list the commission hands to the governor. So don't be negative about applying. You have only yourself to blame if you later feel that you have unfairly been overlooked.

Every person who aspires to this seat on the court should visit our website - - download the application, study it and, if you feel you should be considered, complete and file it. The filing deadline is Aug. 15.

In three respects, the commission has taken steps to encourage applications. The first is our outreach program, exemplified by this message. Second, we have shortened the application form. Completing it will not be unnecessarily burdensome, time-consuming or public. And third, while the filing deadline for the Ciparick vacancy is Aug. 15, applicants may choose to have their submissions considered as well for later vacancies that will arise in the next few years.

I think of my own precious years on the Court of Appeals as "Lawyer Heaven" and urge all qualified candidates to seize this opportunity. It could happen for you, too - but not without your application.


Judith S. Kaye, formerly chief judge of the state of New York, is of counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York City.



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