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Jewish lawyers join opposition to Hochul’s pick for NY’s highest court 

Progressive group spearheads effort against Judge Hector LaSalle, known for conservative rulings on abortion and unions

A group of Jewish attorneys and public defenders is urging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to withdraw her nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle for chief judge of New York’s highest court. LaSalle faces fierce opposition in New York’s Democratic-controlled state Senate. 

Critics have mounted a grassroots campaign against LaSalle, the presiding justice of the state Supreme Court’s Second Department. He was nominated last month for chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals. Critics say his decisions reflect anti-abortion and anti-union positions.

“We are called by our Jewish and American values to defend the rule of law, including the right to privacy and reproductive freedom, the right to associate freely and to demand better working conditions, and the right to justice in the criminal legal system,” the group wrote in a letter, shared with the Forward on Sunday. 

The letter, spearheaded by Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, a progressive advocacy group, is a counter-effort to a recent push by the Jewish bar association, known as the Justice Brandeis Law Society, who expressed support for Hochul’s nominee. 

‘We were strangers’

“As Jews we are required to remember that we were strangers, slaves, and outcasts in the Land of Egypt, and thus that we must defend the rights of immigrants, criminal defendants, and the poor,” the liberal attorneys wrote in their letter. Among the 60 signatories, as of Monday morning, were Eliza Orlins, a public defender who ran for Manhattan District Attorney in the Democratic primaries last year; Daniel Greenberg, former president of New York City’s Legal Aid Society; Deborah Axt, former co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant base-building organization; Peter Markowitz, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; and Leo Gertner; a longtime labor and employment lawyer.

The chief judge of the seven-member Court of Appeals also oversees the administration of the state’s unified court system, the largest in the nation, in addition to the day-to-day activities of judging. LaSalle was one of seven candidates recommended by the Commission on Judicial Nomination to succeed Janet DiFiore, a former Republican prosecutor who resigned in July amid an ethics probe

At least 14 of the 42 Democratic members of the 63-member legislature have expressed opposition to the pick and none of the 21 Republicans has indicated they would vote in favor, if it advances to the floor by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel’s chair, Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Jewish Democrat from Manhattan, said it’s highly unlikely LaSalle’s nomination would be approved by the committee given the stiff opposition. 

Jan. 22 deadline

Hochul defended her choice as “an individual who has a stellar record” and has reportedly personally lobbied key Democratic legislators to vote in favor before the Jan. 22 deadline to accept or reject the nomination, according to the state constitution. 

Brian Ginsberg, a veteran appellate attorney who has frequently litigated in the Court of Appeals, said he hopes state senators won’t presumptively disqualify LaSalle simply because of their subjective views of certain decisions that he may have written or joined, rather consider his qualifications “as a jurist deciding cases fairly according to law, reaching results authorized by precedent rather than outcomes motivated by politics or popularity.” 

Ginsberg, a partner at the Harris Beach law firm, suggested that as presiding justice of the appellate division in the Second Department, an intermediate appellate court in New York and one of the busiest courts in the nation, LaSalle has the managerial experience and leadership skills for the position he’s been nominated for. “That is something that Justice LaSalle has in spades,” he said.

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