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President's Message | October 2018 Newsletter

Recently, in a letter dated August 9, 2018 from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA); the Office of Court Administration announced that the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commissions (IJEQCs) in each Judicial District will cease to exist as of December 31, 2018. As a result, Michael Miller, NYSBA President, created a Task Force on the Evaluation of Candidates for Election to Judicial Office to examine and report the various vetting structures that exist throughout New York State pertaining to candidates for judicial office.

According to the letter, the Mission Statement of the Task Force, which has been approved by NYSBA’s Executive Committee is as follows:

This task force will investigate and report on the various vetting structures that exist throughout New York State pertaining to candidates for election to judicial offices. Based upon its investigation, the task force will propose best practices, guidelines and minimum standards for review of such judicial candidates. It will also make recommendations to assist local bar associations, good government groups and other stakeholders in developing effective non-partisan evaluation and screening of candidates for election to judicial office and improving those efforts that already exist.

IJEQCs were established by the Chief Administrative Judge in February of 2007. There is one IJEQC in each judicial district and for administrative purposes they are grouped by judicial department. Each IJEQC is responsible for reviewing the qualifications of candidates within its respective judicial district who are seeking public election to New York State Supreme Court, County Court, Surrogate’s Court, Family Court, New York City Civil Court, District Court, or City Court. The preamble of part 150 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge states:

It is essential to the effectiveness of an elected judiciary that qualified candidates obtain judicial office. Yet the public frequently is unaware of the qualifications of candidates who run for judicial office, because the candidate-designation process often is not conducted in public view. The public will have greater confidence in the judicial election process if they know that judicial candidates were screened by independent screening panels and found to possess the qualities necessary for effective judicial performance.

According to the rule, each qualification commission shall have 15 members appointed by the Chief Judge of the State of New York, the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, the President of the New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”), and four local bar associations. If a member of IJEQC has a conflict with a judicial candidate, there is a process set up for members to recuse themselves - the commission may transfer the application or permit temporary service on the commission by a member or members of another commission within the same department.

The NYSBA Task Force asked ACBA to complete a survey to assist them in carrying out their mission. In responding to the survey, I had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of our local bar association’s role in providing ratings to judicial candidates. Proudly, ACBA has provided this service to its members for many years.

ACBA’s Judicial Qualifications Committee consists of 15 members from various political parties and they are tasked with rating the qualifications of judges running for Supreme Court, Albany County Court, Albany County Surrogate Court, and Family Court of Albany County. The guidelines govern the evaluation process, the proceedings and deliberations as well as the reconsideration process.

It’s my opinion that the local bar associations are in the best position to rate candidates that will serve in their jurisdiction. And, with the future absence of IJEQC, ACBA judicial ratings will become more essential to informing constituents. I would like to thank the members of our Judicial Qualifications Committee and its Chair Kathleen Barclay for their hard work in providing a crucial service to the members of the bar association and the public.

As previously stated, each month I have the opportunity to interview a member of the public sector. This month I had the honor of interviewing Hon. William E. McCarthy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department.

 

1)  Please summarize your job as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division?

Although I previously sat on the Supreme Court trial bench and on the Second Department, I have been an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department since January of 2009. My current Court hears appeals from trial courts spanning 28 counties in three judicial districts from the lower Catskills to the Canadian border, including just over half of New York’s land area. My decisions review both law and facts in civil and criminal cases. Because of my location in Albany, I also hear appeals from decisions by State agencies. As a result, I decide matters in virtually every kind of law that is litigated in New York State. In addition to the times when attorneys and the public can see me at work on the bench, the majority of my job takes place behind the scenes, where I read hundreds of pages of briefs, records and prior cases to prepare for argument, write decisions and conference cases with the other judges on our Court.

 

2)  State your reasons for selecting a career in public service instead of private practice?

I come from a humble, rural family with outstanding core values. Initially, I was attracted to law as a way to uphold the values instilled in me by my grandparents and my parents: honesty, integrity, hard work, compassion and equal treatment for all. Early in my legal career, I was inspired by Judge Edward S. Conway for whom I was a principal law clerk. He was committed to ensure the fairness of our court system to everyone regardless of race, gender, orientation, wealth or standing in the community. I was also fortunate to clerk for Judges Joseph Harris and Edward Sheridan. The work I performed in these positionsreinforcedmy desire to serve the citizens of my community rather than advocate for clients in private practice.

 

3)  What are some of the biggest challenges of a Justice of the Appellate Division?

Since we decide cases of general jurisdiction, one of the biggest challenges is becoming educated in esoteric issues in all areas of law. In a given week I read briefs and records from such diverse matters as equitable distribution in divorce, tax certiorari, constitutional issues in criminal matters, attorney discipline, expert evidentiary proof, valuations of personal injury and property damage and a variety of other matters. While I am aided by terrific writers and appellate counsel as well as my excellent staff, I also face many pro se litigants who often have valid legal arguments albeit without the benefit of legal research or writing skills. The work is fascinating but extremely time consuming and deals with complex issues that are critical to the litigants who come before me.

 

4)  In what way can seasoned ACBA members contribute to the development of the next generation of practitioners?

I would not have achieved nearly as much in my career without the benefit of more experienced ACBA attorneys who guided me through several difficult challenges. The greatest contributions came from understanding my fellow counsel and jurists. As a law clerk and area trial judge I used to watch great ACBA trial lawyers in action. Any chance they get to talk to young lawyers and explain the process provides an immeasurable benefit to the next generation. The Albany County Bar Association has some of the best lawyers in the country and young attorneys are provided a great opportunity every chance the seasoned practitioners participate in Continuing Legal Education or attend informal events such as Morning Meet and Greet, Young Lawyer events, Moot Court, the Court of Appeals Dinner and other functions. ACBA members contribute to the next generation by being mentors, showing new attorneys the way or by just being there to answer questions. They can also promote a good example by representing their clients well while behaving in a courteous manner at the same time.

 

5)  What is the most valuable ACBA membership benefit for you?

The most valuable benefit to me is what the Albany County Bar Association calls connection. To some extent, an Appellate Division Justice is isolated. We don’t get to enjoy the day to day interaction with lawyers and litigants that is one of the great benefits of the trial justice. Ours is a far more formal interaction. To me, the formal and informal social networking events make up for that isolation in ways that are both gratifying and rewarding.

 

Hon. Christina L. Ryba
ACBA President

 

 

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