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Thank you so very much for that warm introduction, Judge Cannataro. It’s wonderful to be introduced by someone who played such an important role in my success at the Court of Appeals. I am so very proud of you, Judge, and proud of how you have so ably led our state Court system these last seven months. I was especially proud two weeks ago when I tuned-in to your State of the Judiciary address and after hearing about, the Court system’s post pandemic progress, you took the time to address the issue of misinformation influencing-public opinion and ultimately posing a threat to the Independence of the Judiciary. It was a bold and courageous move and I applaud you for so eloquently taking it on.
I also want to thank NYCLA and Bob Haig and his committee, Sofia and the others for this wonderful honor named after a hero of the bar, William Nelson Cromwell, a distinguished corporate lawyer and co-founder of the Law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. He dedicated much of his efforts to the improvement of the legal profession and legal education generally. He was especially interested in American legal history. I wonder what he would have to say today. He would be saddened by the erosion of trust in many of our institutions. He would have been appalled by the recent attacks on our judges, much coming from other branches of government and misleading media reports.
I commend NYCLA and its President, Vincent Chang and President Elect-Adrianne Koch for speaking out in defense of our judges when unfairly attacked and ever-seeking to protect their reputations and their independence. I also congratulate NYCLA for their recent editorial piece in support of a fair process for the selection of Court of Appeals judges. Thank you NYCLA for all that you do for our judges and thank you for this most elegant celebration in this beautiful venue honoring me and Judges Stewart Aaron and Judge Barbara Moses, Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain and those newly elected and newly appointed judges.
As to those new judges, I congratulate you and welcome you to the judicial ranks. This has been a most difficult few years with lots of uncertainty, but the Courts are strong and will remain so and your roles in preserving the Rule of Law for those who seek justice in our courts is paramount. I welcome you to this extraordinary position, one which I was fortunate to hold for 34 years and that has shaped my entire being. I feel particularly proud, and even parental towards those among you who came before the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary while I was Chair. I loved that post as it brought me great joy in helping shape the next generation of judges and here you are, tonight celebrating yourselves. Congratulations!
Much has been written about judiciary hearings playing to the media and targeting candidates on questions of judicial philosophy and ideology in particular. We saw that with the U.S. Senate Confirmation hearing of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and the more recent New York Senate Judiciary hearing of Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle. We witnessed the line of questioning and the intense scrutiny into qualifications and ideology and the lack of understanding of the role of on appellate judge. We were pleased with the ultimate result in Justice Jackson’s case but dismayed at the lack of respect shown to one of our State’s finest jurists and his ultimate failed nomination, almost plunging our state into what some have called a constitutional crisis. The constitutionally mandated orderly selection process and the carefully calibrated separation of powers our State Constitution envisioned was being threatened by an over politicized process. Hopefully, this is behind us and a future nominee to our highest Court will not be derailed by misinformation and partisan politics and will be allowed a timely full and fair process which serves to promote confidence in our court system and the rule of law.
This Association in early January in a Letter to the Editor of the New York Law Journal warned that the attacks on the nomination of Justice LaSalle threatened Judicial Independence. It warned against interest groups pressing political agendas and legislators speaking out publicly against the nomination even before hearings were held. It clearly recognized that the Judge was unable to respond to these attacks because of judicial ethics rules and concluded that said attacks from high ranking members of the Legislature threatened Judicial Independence.
In February, this association again wrote. This time in response to unfair remarks made by a State legislator during a recent budget hearing, about a sitting judge who had penned an OP-ED piece warning that disrespect for Constitutional process is a threat to judicial independence and the separation of powers and can damage democracy.
We see that happening right now in Israel, where an effort to diminish the authority and independence of the judiciary is threatening the very fabric of Israel’s democratic state. Just last week, former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler in a published commentary drew the parallel between the two while describing recent efforts by our State Legislators as encroaching upon the independence of our judiciary by imposing its political will on our courts. We cannot allow that to happen here in New York.
An Independent judiciary is a critical part of our democracy that safeguards basic guarantees and freedoms under our federal and state constitutions. The other branches of government may implement popular programs, but only the judiciary can be depended upon to guarantee our rights. In my opinion our judiciary is the finest in the land and our court system the shining star in the constellation of court systems. So we must keep it that way and remain vigilant. I praise NYCLA for maintaining that vigilance and speaking out where they see injustices, speaking out when sitting judges cannot and I urge others to do so as well.
In closing, I want to thank those who are here tonight, judges, lawyers, my Greenberg Traurig colleagues, Judge Cannataro for traveling from Albany to be here with me tonight and my daughter, Roseanne and her husband Frankie who are my best supporters.
Thank you NYCLA for making this amazing evening possible. I can’t tell you how great it has been to visit with so many of you in person. Some of whom I had not seen for over three years.
I will cherish this award and am deeply honored.
Thank you and have a good night.