Judge Hector LaSalle was nominated by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday to lead New York's top court and oversee its sprawling court system.
If confirmed by the Democratic-led state Senate, LaSalle would be the first Latino judge to lead the Court of Appeals.
At the same time, Hochul nominated Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson to serve as the chief administrative judge.
"New York's Court of Appeals has a long history as a beacon of justice, and Judge LaSalle is an outstanding jurist in that tradition. He has the skills, experience, and intellect to ensure that our highest court is seen as a leader across the country," Hochul said. "Judge LaSalle has a sterling reputation as a consensus-builder, and I know he can unite the court in service of justice. He has effectively led the largest state appellate court in the country, and in partnership with Judge Richardson-Mendelson, I know he will be focused on expanding access to justice for New Yorkers. Our state courts are more important now than ever when it comes to protecting our rights and upholding New York values, and I know that Judge LaSalle will lead the court in doing just that."
LaSalle has served as the presiding justice of the Second Department since 2021, leading a state appeallate court that has 21 associate juustices and more than 400 employees with a budget of $69 million.
"I am humbled by Governor Hochul's nomination, and I thank her for this tremendous honor. I am committed to leading the Court with integrity and fairness, upholding justice, and protecting the rights of New Yorkers," LaSalle said. "If confirmed, I plan to appoint the Honorable Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson to serve as Chief Administrative Judge, and I would be honored to work with her to get our courts functioning as efficiently and effectively as possible for the betterment of all New Yorkers."
If confirmed, LaSalle would replace former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, an appointee of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. DiFiore resigned amid a judicial conduct investigation. He has previously served as a deputy attorney general and assistant district attorney.
Confirmations for judicial nominations are often pro-forma events in Albany. But the Court of Appeals nominations are being more closely watched in recent years by progressives and some Democratic lawmakers.
DiFiore's court rejected Democratic-drawn legislative boundaries earlier this year, leading to a scramble in the redistricting process that ultimately resulted in an appointed special master drawing the lines.
The court has also been criticized by advocates on the left for recent criminal justice rulings they worry have been tilted against defendants.
Progressive organizations had urged Hochul to not select someone with a prosecutor's background for the role. A coalition of progressive groups on Thursday blasted the nomination.
“Since August, The Court New York Deserves coalition of nearly 150 organizations from across New York State has called for a new chief judge whose career demonstrates commitment to using the law to protect the most vulnerable and upholding New Yorkers’ rights," Peter Martin, Director of Judicial Accountability at the Center for Community Alternatives. The Commission on Judicial Nomination heeded these calls, producing a list of candidates that included several with outstanding records, including three women who have been leading voices in advocating for equity and justice."
But attorneys' organizations praised the nomination, with New York State Bar Association President Sherry Levin Wallach pointing to LaSalle's experience as a judge.
"He possesses a remarkable intellect and has deep practical knowledge of the courts and the challenges they face," she said. "He has a great deal of experience on both the trial and appellate bench and has granular knowledge of both the adjudicative and administrative aspects of the job of chief judge."