The Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, Janet DiFiore, plans to step down at the end of August, she announced in a letter to her colleagues on Monday.
DiFiore served as leader of the state’s highest court and has overseen the court system since 2016.
“It is time for me to move on to the next chapter of my professional life,” DiFiore said in her resignation letter. She did not provide a reason for why she plans to leave on Aug. 31.
The remaining six judges on the court will select an acting chief judge to serve until a successor is nominated by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and confirmed by the state Senate, which is led by a Democratic supermajority.
“Chief Judge DiFiore’s leadership of our state court system - especially during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic - has been a critical asset,” Hochul said in a statement Monday. “I thank Judge DiFiore for her years of service and look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Commission on Judicial Nomination as we work to appoint new leadership to the Court.”
DiFiore, 66, was nominated to the court by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who resigned last year.
In her resignation letter, she described the accomplishments during her seven years with the court, including eliminating a backlog of cases and creating a new culture that is “laser-focused on efficient case management and the delivery of high quality court services.”
‘A New Direction’
DiFiore, a Republican turned Democrat, has been a controversial figure and a conservative force on the court.
She most recently earned the ire of some Democrats for her role in throwing out the Democratic-favoring congressional and state Senate redistricting maps.
DiFiore sided with three other judges in the decision, saying Democrats violated the state Constitution’s ban on partisan gerrymandering, and failed to follow the proper redistricting procedure.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday praised DiFiore for leading the court through an “extremely difficult period in its history,” and for administrative reforms such as commissioning a report on racial bias in the court system.
But he criticized the court for being “out of step” with the needs of New Yorkers. “It’s time for a new direction in our judicial branch,” he said, adding that “Chief Judge’s replacement must be a jurist who will lead our Court of Appeals in a much-needed course correction that uplifts the vulnerable and ensures equity and justice for all.”
New York State Bar Association President Sherry Levin Wallach said DiFiore led the state with “strength and conviction,” particularly during the pandemic.
DiFiore’s resignation comes as she faces an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for allegedly interfering in the disciplinary hearing of New York State Court Officers Association President Dennis Quirk, a critic of hers, Law360 reported Monday.
A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.
“That is part of being a public official in this day and age,” Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Unified Court System said in an email when asked about the investigation. DiFiore had been planning her resignation announcement for months, and it “is completely unrelated to Dennis Quirk’s complaint or any other external factors,” he said.
DiFiore has a bachelor’s degree from C.W. Post College, Long Island University and J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law.
Her career includes having served as a New York State Supreme Court Justice as supervising judge of the Criminal Courts of the 9th Judicial District, and Westchester County District Attorney.
In an interview with the New York Times, which first reported on her departure, DiFiore said she’s made her contribution, and felt it was a good “comfortable moment” to move on. She didn’t say what her next steps will be.
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