Saturday, February 14, 2009

And who's the state's new Chief Judge? Sheldon Silver's pal

Wayne Barrett points out in this week's Village Voice cover story, headlined Paterson Duped Again: Shelly Silver Gets Childhood Pal Jonathan Lippman State's Top Courts Job, points out something very unseemly in the judicial selection process.

(Graphic by Robin Eley)

Barrett writes:
In fact, the story of how Lippman reached this pinnacle has its shabby side. He exudes an above-politics reform aura, but he did not climb to the top of the state's judiciary without making some stops in the dark along the way. His ally, Silver, helped clear that path to power, working a system whose anti-democratic ways have been rebuked by two federal courts.

Lippman has been a hardworking ambassador and manager of the courts for decades, visiting almost all of the system's 343 locations and acquainting himself with virtually every one of its 1,300 judges. But he has also been its consummate political player, seemingly more interested in influence than law.


Notably, the only time Lippman ran for judicial office, in Westchester, he was nominated on all five ballot lines, facing no opposition, thanks to a deal generated by Silver (and endorsed, among others, by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a crusader on issues regarding public authorities). Once in office, he deftly practiced judicial patronage politics, helping establish new judgships and enabling a system that doled out lucrative assignments to insiders as "court evaluators" in competency cases.

Then a panel including two Lippman associates recommended him to Paterson as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Barrett asserts that Paterson agreed to the appointment as long as Silver dropped his opposition to Caroline Kennedy's Senate candidacy. In the end, Paterson dropped Kennedy and got the short end of the stick.

And who cares?

New York Civic's Henry Stern contrasted Barrett's article with a New York Times piece on Lippman:
The Times this morning gives a more complimentary portrait of Lippman in a story by John Eligon that starts on pA25. It deals with a number of the issues Barrett raises, but in a matter-of-fact way, as if there were nothing unusual about what happened.

Stern observes:
Wayne Barrett is probably the city’s best investigative reporter. He and his journalism-school interns get information that mainstream dailies, other weeklies and bloggers fail to dig up. There is a problem in that his stories are too detailed and specific for some people to read, particularly those who pick up the Voice primarily for the entertainment coverage and the skin ads that fill its back pages. The facts he brings to light deserve wider recognition, but it is the habit of many papers that if we didn’t break the story, there can’t be a story. That helps the bad guys.

In the present situation, neither Lippman nor Silver has been accused of a crime or any corrupt or immoral act. It does show how far reaching is the Speaker’s influence, and how the Governor is not fully aware of facts that might help him make a sound judgment.


On the Voice's web site, some commenters piled on the criticism, with some even chide the Voice for not publishing the expose before Lippman's ascension was a fait accompli.

Lippman was approved by the state Senate Wednesday, the day the Voice hit the streets (though the article was released a day earlier on the web. As the Times reported Thursday, three abstaining senators expressed qualms, not about the Silver connection but the mostly white male panel of candidates presented to Paterson by the State Commission on Judicial Nomination.

An AY role

Lippman, as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, was on the panel that in September heard the appeal of the case challenging the AY environmental review; he asked some thoughtful questions and didn't betray his hand.

A ruling in that case is awaited. Should the defendant Empire State Development Corporation prevail, an appeal is automatic only if there are two dissenting judges.

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